Resources & Education

August 10th, 2018

How to Talk About Addiction and Recovery: Words That Hurt and Words That Help

Talking conceptMost of us were raised to carefully consider the words we chose before speaking. Most of us have been hurt by words in the past and, at different times, empowered by them.

Isn’t it amazing: the lasting impact of something that we can’t touch?

Words seem intangible but the fact is: they have a profound effect on the lives of the people around us and the communities we live in.

The language of recovery has evolved as the science around addiction has become more clear. Here are some words you should know to talk in helpful and healthy ways about recovery.

Kick these outdated terms to the curb

The following terms create stigma, shame, or imply perspectives that are scientifically inaccurate.

  • Addict
  • Drug of choice, drug of abuse
  • Substance abuse
  • Untreated addict, untreated alcoholic
  • Clean and sober

Use these words to include and empower

The following terms emphasize humanity, the individual story, capacity for growth and change, and the addiction’s biological nature.

  • Person living with addiction
  • Drug of use, substance of use
  • Substance Use Disorder (SUD)
  • Individual not yet in recovery
  • Person in recovery
  • Drug-free, free from illicit/non-prescribed medications

When was the last time that you stopped to consider the words you use to describe addiction & recovery?

Science has long established that addiction is a biological disease, not a moral failing. Still, the sense of stigma and shame persists. Every day, stigma and shame around addiction prevent people — unique individuals just like you and me — from seeking support that could save their lives.

Changing the language we use around addiction is not only an evidence-based practice that reflects medical science — it’s also an act of care and of advocacy that creates room for those living with addiction to feel safe asking for help.

If you want to know more about language that supports recovery, take a moment to explore the resources below:

  • The Addictionary was created by the Recovery Research Institute and includes helpful “stigma alerts” attached to words you’ll want to avoid.
  • This easy-to-read chart explains outdated/stigmatizing phrases and their person-centered alternatives.

The words you use today could change someone’s tomorrow. Change it for the better.


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