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Substance abuse is a sensitive subject, and it’s rare to find someone who is not impacted by it personally. According to the Pew Research Center, approximately half (46 percent) of the United States population knows someone personally who struggles with current or past drug addiction.

Since the topic so often strikes close to home, it’s common to hear various opinions on the matter, such as how addiction should be treated, what behaviors are enabling and the best way for families to intervene. 

Another sensitive subject is how addictions should be discussed. The language surrounding substance use and recovery has changed over the course of time, and this article will explore the proper terminology to use when discussing a substance use disorder as well as common stigmas that come when someone is labeled an “addict.”

Is it wrong to call someone an alcoholic?

Calling someone an addict or alcoholic has fallen out of fashion, and the appropriate verbiage has changed in recent decades. Our society highly values language and uses written communication, like social media, and work correspondence through emails and text messages on a daily basis. 

In addition to the high focus on wording, there’s been a coinciding increase in the way we understand addictions from a scientific lens. Substance use disorders are understood as chronic, relapsing disorders according to the University of Michigan Medicine. The chemical changes that happen in the brain when addiction occurs mean that addiction is not due to moral weakness.

Thus, the language around addiction can either reinforce or help to minimize the stigma around those who face addictions. Rather than calling someone an “addict” or “alcoholic,” it’s preferable to put the person before the disorder, and say “someone who struggles with an alcohol addiction” or “someone with a substance use disorder.” 

Person-first language has been adopted in many fields, especially in medical and mental health contexts. Making the transition from “alcoholic” to “someone who struggles with alcoholism” shows respect for the individual and helps to minimize the stigma of addiction.

What is the proper way to say someone is an addict?

Referring to someone who has an addiction requires a learning curve. While you’re adjusting the way you speak about this subject, try to keep these two tips in mind. 

1. Always put the person before the disease

No matter how you phrase your sentences, make sure you put the person before the disorder. For example, you wouldn’t say “a depressed person,” you would say “someone with depression.” The same holds true for addictions. Instead of saying “Addicts tend to…” you would want to say “People with addictions tend to…”

2. People aren’t diseases, they have them

It’s easy to swap the word “is” for “has.” For example, instead of saying “My brother is a diabetic,” you would want to say “My brother has diabetes.” This distinguishes a person as separate from their condition and assigns personal worth to someone who is suffering.

3. Use up-to-date terminology

Research on substance use disorders will continue to grow, and the more we know the more we can modify our language to appropriately address these issues. Terms like “addict,” “alcoholic” and similar labels are now commonly replaced with “opioid use disorder” and “alcohol use disorder.” 

What is the stigma of addiction and why does it matter?

Substance abuse often leaves people feeling helpless and hopeless. On top of the negative emotional and physical side effects of drug use, the social repercussions can be heavily felt. The stigma of addiction is an added burden to those who are struggling to overcome drug or alcohol dependencies.

There are many stigmas that go hand-in-hand with addictions. Here are a few common stereotypes you might be familiar with if you or someone you know is affected by drug use.

  • People who use drugs could just stop if they tried
  • People who use drugs are poor
  • People who use drugs are uneducated
  • Men abuse all drugs and alcohol more often than women
  • People who use drugs are violent
  • People who use drugs are dirty and have infections and diseases
  • People who use drugs can’t function in normal lives
  • People who drink alcohol in excess don’t care about endangering others’ lives on the road
  • People who abuse substances don’t have families to care for or have abandoned their families
  • People who abuse substances make poor employees, friends and neighbors
  • People who abuse drugs are free-loading off of government services

The pain of addiction can be compounded by the stigma of addiction and the thoughts and comments of others. Dealing with harsh opinions can make recovery even more difficult, and reaching out for help may feel impossible.

Finding judgment-free intervention

If you have been affected by the stigma of addiction and struggle to find support that values you as a person, it’s time to get professional help from people who care. Silvermist Recovery can offer you compassion at a difficult time in your life.

Get meaningful treatment with dignity at Silvermist Recovery. Contact us today to learn more.