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Why Is “Addict” an Outdated Term? Removing Stigma and Shame From Addiction

Labeling yourself an “addict” can be a poor way to communicate your recovery. Why is “recovering from substance use disorder” (SUD) a better phrase to use? Labels are never helpful, but they can be stigmatizing in recovery.

Being in recovery is a healthy way to describe the life-long process of healing, but being labeled an “addict” can perpetuate stigma. Recovery is a process that should be considered a positive aspect of life; there is no place for labels or negativity.

Using outdated terms instead of medical terminology when speaking about or to someone with SUD or another mental health issue is demeaning; it implies that SUD is not legitimately a medical disorder. Words matter. When words are misused, it sets the stage for miscommunication and misconceptions.

What Words Are Outdated?

The following words imply that the person is the problem and do not accurately portray a medical or mental health issue:

  • Addict
  • User
  • Alcoholic
  • Drunk
  • Drug Abuser
  • Former Addict
  • Reformed addict/alcoholic
  • Habit
  • Junkie

What Words Instead?

When talking about SUD, or any medical issue, use person-first terminology. A person is not an asthmatic; they have asthma. Likewise, a person isn’t an alcoholic; instead, they have alcohol use disorder (AUD). Instead of using outdated terminology, consider the following:

  • Start by referring to the person by their name rather than by their diagnosis
  • Use medically factual terminology when referring to someone’s illness, e.g., SUD
  • Do not say someone is a reformed or a former alcoholic or drug addict; someone who is in recovery is just like anyone else with a chronic medical condition

SUD is a chronic, relapsing, and treatable brain disease. All people who are ill should be treated with respect, no matter what illness they are being treated for or whether they relapse or not. Sadly, when people are stigmatized, they avoid getting the help they need. They stay isolated and feel unnecessary shame and embarrassment because they are ill.

Everyone can help reduce stigma by simply choosing their words carefully and being inclusive when speaking. Using the best word choice can go a long way toward educating other people and helping them make better word choices in the future.

Substance use disorder (SUD) is a treatable medical condition; using the word “addict” is stigmatizing, as is using words that imply that SUD is negative or shameful. In using negative terms, the implication is that SUD is a “choice” or behavior that can be controlled by the ill person using willpower alone. This kind of communication or thinking that portrays someone with SUD in a negative light can prevent people from seeking help or treatment. Call The Guest House (855) 483-7800 if you or someone you love is struggling with SUD.