A Mini-Guide to the Proper Terms for Addiction

Published On: July 6, 2022|Categories: Addiction, Educational|

There are some words that most of us are pretty familiar with when it comes to the conversation around substance abuse and addiction. These words can range from proper terms that are informative and helpful to slang terminology that can further stigmatize the addiction recovery community.

While it’s been scientifically and medically confirmed that addiction is indeed a serious illness, many people still view the condition as the result of a weak character trait, but this isn’t true. 

Substance abuse and addiction are medical conditions that affect millions of people each year, and more often than not, professional help is needed to have a successful recovery and achieve long-term sobriety. There is, however, something that all of us can do to help.

Something incredibly beneficial to those in the addiction community is to learn which terms are helpful for those on the road to recovery and which terms aren’t.

In this article, we’re going to discuss the proper terminology to use when discussing or around those who are battling substance abuse and addiction.

Why words matter

Those struggling with substance abuse have long been misunderstood, and a lack of understanding around the true nature of addiction has caused countless stigmas to arise.

In addition, an increasing amount of toxic terminology has arisen, contributing to the expansion and perpetuation of not only these harmful stigmas, but various addictions as well.

By recognizing the damaging patterns within addiction terminology, we can begin to use language that speaks of addiction like the true illness it is. All while showing respect to those who struggle with substance abuse and their loved ones.

This will enable those struggling with substance use disorder to be more willing to be honest about their addiction, more open to seeking treatment and, in turn, may allow for greater and more successful recoveries.

Whether you’re speaking with someone who has struggled or is currently struggling with substance abuse—or are engaging in a conversation about addiction—it’s important to be mindful of your language. We’ve compiled a list of words that are helpful, and words that aren’t.

Terms that are best to avoid

One of things we have control over is that of how we communicate, the words we choose to use. When it comes to the language we use around addiction, it’s common for many of us — even unconsciously — to use terminology that can be negative and judgmental.

Recognizing which words are inappropriate to use is an important step for reframing our perspective around addiction, enabling us to know which words are harmful and best if avoided.

A few of these negative addiction terms include:

  • Dirty (implies filth as opposed to “clean” or sober)
  • Junkie, addict, druggie (defines the person as being the problem, as opposed to having a problem)
  • Abuser (places blame on the individual and is linked with violence and a lack of control)
  • Habit (simplifies addiction into being something willpower alone can stop)

Just as certain addiction terms can be offensive and wounding, so can select terminology be informative and beneficial to those in the addiction recovery community.

Terms that are helpful to use

Choosing to rethink and reshape both our commentary around addiction is one of the greatest ways to help positively impact the addiction recovery community. 

By becoming more aware of our speech patterns and consciously choosing to reframe our addiction terminology to be more supportive, respectful and compassionate, we can break stigmas and further promote recovery.

Some proper addiction terms include:

  • Person with a substance use disorder (as opposed to addict)
  • Person with an alcohol use disorder (as opposed to alcoholic)
  • Person in recovery (as opposed to former addict)
  • Person who previously used drugs or alcohol (as opposed to reformed addict)

Our words have the power to uplift and support, or shame and tear down. For someone considering or struggling with recovery, it’s these words, remarks and commentary that can be so influential it makes or breaks their sobriety.

Contact us for additional support

If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder, we’re here to help.

At Pyramid Healthcare, we’re committed to providing you with the highest level of personalized care. With our compassionate staff and a variety of comprehensive treatment programs, we’ll empower you to not only fully recover from addiction, but regain and rebuild the life you truly want.

To learn more about how we can help you overcome a substance use disorder, call us today at 888-694-9996.

Treating Comorbid Major Depressive Disorder and Addiction
A Closer Look at Maryland’s Opioid and Non-Opioid Drug Numbers