Removing the Stigma from Addiction

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June 27, 2017
|   Updated:
November 11, 2021

“He’s an addict.”

We’ve all heard it before, and lots of us have even said it. The word addict rolls right off the tongue and instantly conjures a negative image of what is often an unsavory situation.

Defining Stigma

When we use the word addict to describe a person with an addiction, we fail to separate the person from the disease. “Addict” lumps the two in together and positions addiction as a moral failing or character flaw, instead of a disease. “Addict” applies unnecessary shame and judgment to those dealing with addiction.

The way we choose to speak about an issue tends to frame the way we think about that issue. And the words we use are a crucial component of that. It’s no different in the world of addiction treatment.

How to Remove Stigma from Addiction

But in our rapidly evolving society, how can we expect to change the way we approach and treat addiction, if we can’t change the way we talk about it? In order to retrain how we deal with addiction, we need to reshape the conversation surrounding it.

So how should we refer to people who are dealing with addiction? Just like that, separate the person from the disease.

Instead of saying, “Jane is an addict”, we should say something like, “Jane is dealing with an addiction”, or “Jane was addicted…”

Before anyone gets all tangled up and starts yelling at us for being “too PC”, it’s important to note that not only is this vocabulary change a less judgmental way to speak about addiction, it is the grammatically correct way, and it is widely pushed for in academic and publication circles.

In fact, the AP, which supplies around 15,000 publications and media organizations with news, recently revised its stylebook guidelines to include this more correct vocabulary surrounding addiction.

If the language change is accepted by major publications and more accurate terms are used in conversation, it could potentially help improve treatment and policy by removing the negative stigma associated with addiction.

It’s a small but important step in the right direction to remove the shame we involuntarily attach to those dealing with addiction. If we can change the conversation, we can reframe our thoughts, change the trajectory, and help improve the odds of successful recovery.

About the Author

Shelby Hendrix is a blogger from the Northern Midwest with close personal ties to the addiction world. She focuses on the addiction landscape to reach out to those fighting alcoholism and compel them to seek an informed, healthy recovery.

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