The Language of Stigma and Addiction

  • Sarah E. Wakeman


Language can be used intentionally or unintentionally to communicate a message about a person or group of people as being “other” and to perpetuate stigma. Historical examples, such as with HIV or many psychiatric illnesses, show how language has been used to ostracize and also how changing language can help reduce stigma toward people suffering from these diseases. The language used toward people who use drugs or alcohol and people with addiction includes many stigmatizing terms, which have been shown to increase negative attitudes among the public and clinicians. Examples include words like “abuse,” “abuser,” “addict,” and “dirty.” There are also more subtle ways that language can be used to frame issues related to addiction or substance use, which can enhance stigma. Nationally there has been growing awareness around the importance of language and the need to use medically appropriate, person-first terminology. Changing our language is a crucial component of reducing stigma to improve the lives and health of people who use drugs or alcohol and people with addiction.


Substance use disorders Addiction Stigma Language Terminology 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah E. Wakeman
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Massachusetts General Hospital Substance Use Disorders InitiativeBostonUSA
  2. 2.Harvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA

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