More than 23 million Americans struggle with drug or alcohol use disorders, yet only about 25 percent receive any treatment. This stems, in part, from society’s misconception of substance use disorder as a moral failing. This attitude can result in shame, or stigma, reducing the chance people struggling with substance use disorder will reach out for help. Following treatment, people in recovery may still live with stigma from prospective or current employers, social services and personal relationships.
Stigma can also transmit to prospective students of addiction medicine and beyond to the general public, diminishing the resources and expertise needed to curb the country’s opioid epidemic and other widespread substance use disorders. Gateway Foundation’s team works against this stigma to expand access to treatment and save more lives every day. Doing so first requires an acknowledgment of addiction as a disease and, second, attention to the way we talk about substance use disorders with patients, other professionals and outside the world of addiction medicine.
With patients, Gateway Foundation counselors and medical professionals employ evidence-based practices that put the patient and their strengths first, such as Motivational Interviewing. Within the field of addiction medicine, standards in diagnoses and associated language have evolved to emphasize the person first, as well.
Below are some tips to improve the way you or your organization talks about substance use disorders to reduce stigma:
- Pay attention to your language. Refrain from terms like “addict” or “alcoholic; instead, use person-first language like “person with an alcohol use disorder.”
- Consider other perspectives. If you are talking about people in recovery, do your best to find testimonials from people in recovery or first directly discuss your message with people from that audience. Emphasize your desire to be respectful.
- Fact check. When talking about substance use prevention and treatment, be sure to pull your information from reliable sources, for example the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM).