The Language of Addiction

Published On: September 26, 2016|Categories: Addiction|
the language of addiction

The language of addiction can be a tricky thing to master. Many people who are unfamiliar with addiction, and even those who think or talk about the disease every day, may find themselves unintentionally using words that perpetuate negative stigmas surrounding those with substance use. These words can shape or feed into the opinions of others, or even reveal longstanding stereotypes about addiction.

Some individuals may not realize the impact of the words they use. Increased addiction education and awareness can help combat some of the lingering negative stigmas and language that people with substance use issues hear every day, making it easier for them to recognize their addiction as a disease and focus on getting the treatment they need.

Starting today, become more conscious of the addiction terms and language you use. Below are a few commonly used words or phrases related to addiction that may seem benign, but which can actually feed into harmful addiction stereotypes.


These words are often associated with violence, anger or a lack of control. According to Harvard Health Publications, clinicians are more likely to recommend a punitive treatment for a person described as an “abuser.”


A person who has abstained from using drugs or alcohol might refer to themselves or be referred to by others as “clean,” and negative results of a drug test may casually be described as “clean” (no evidence of use). However, this implies that a person still struggling with a dependence on drugs or alcohol is inherently “dirty” or bad.


The use of this term applies to discussions surrounding treatments for opioid dependence like methadone, Suboxone and Vivitrol. By describing them as “replacements,” it minimizes the validity of these treatments and implies that the individual is still actively using drugs. Methadone, Suboxone and Vivitrol are nothing more than medications prescribed to a person suffering from an illness.


Referring to an individual as an addict reduces their identity down to their struggle with substance use. Instead, experts and those in the addiction treatment industry have shifted toward people-first language: “a person with a drug addiction,” for example, is a better option than the dehumanizing “addict.”


A habit is something that can easily be broken through persistence or willpower. Addiction is more complicated than that, and, as a disease of the brain, requires medical treatment in addition to an emotional commitment to treatment and recovery.

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