Stigma and Addiction
Stigma is a discrimination against an identifiable group of people, a place, or a nation. Stigma about people with substance use disorders might include inaccurate or unfounded thoughts like: they are dangerous, incapable of managing treatment, or at fault for their condition.
Where does stigma come from?
For people with an SUD, stigma may stem from antiquated and inaccurate beliefs that addiction is a moral failing, instead of what we know it to be—a chronic, treatable disease from which patients can recover and continue to lead healthy lives.
How does it affect people with Substance Use Disorder (SUD)?
Feeling stigmatized can reduce the willingness of individuals with SUD to seek treatment. Stigmatizing views of people with SUD are common; this stereotyping can lead others to feel pity, fear, anger, and a desire for social distance from people with an SUD.
Stigmatizing language can negatively influence health care provider perceptions of people with SUD, which can impact the care they provide.
How can we make a change?
When talking to people with SUD, their loved ones, and your colleagues, use non-stigmatizing language that reflects an accurate, science-based understanding of SUD and is consistent with your professional role. Because clinicians are typically the first points of contact for a person with an SUD, health professionals should “take all steps necessary to reduce the potential for stigma and negative bias.” Take the first step by learning the terms to avoid and use.
Use person-first language and let individuals choose how they are described.
Person-first language maintains the integrity of individuals as whole human beings—by removing language that equates a person to their condition or has negative connotations. For example, “person with a substance use disorder” has a neutral tone and distinguishes the person from his or her diagnosis
Your Words Matter
Terms to Use and Avoid When Talking About Addiction
Be prepared to help a loved one in active addiction and recovery, including:
- Connect with support for all family members through Let’s Get Real, Inc., to learn how to help a loved one in active addiction or in recovery from a substance use disorder: 440-963-7042. Also ask about online recovery groups.
- Sit with your loved one while they call the local addiction helpline to seek treatment, available 24/7: 440-989-4900.
- Ask all friends, loved ones and colleagues to add the Crisis Text Line to the contacts list in their phone: 741741. This is a free, confidential option to help people through a moment of distress, no matter what the challenge is.
- Request a free Narcan rescue kit from Lorain County Public Health by visiting www.loraincountyhealth.com/opioids. Narcan is a medicine that may reverse an overdose caused by an opioid drug like Percocet, Vicodin, morphine, Demerol, heroin, and Oxycontin. Narcan is an emergency medicine that blocks the effect of the opioid on the brain and can help a person start breathing again. It does not reverse overdoses caused by non-opioid drugs like cocaine, alcohol, methamphetamines and benzodiazepines.
- Request a free medication disposal pouch to safely remove old or unused prescriptions from your home medicine cabinets, by contacting 440-282-9920.
- If you know that a loved one will use dangerous drugs, and may use them alone, tell them about the national Never Use Alone service available at 1-800-484-3731. This service asks callers for their location, allergies or medical conditions, and then an operator stays on the line with the caller while they use drugs. If the caller becomes unresponsive, the operator will notify emergency services of possible overdose. The service’s philosophy is to provide recovery help if requested, but they state: “We recognize that you will only quit when you’re ready to quit. We just want to help keep you alive until that time comes.”
- If you know someone in long-term recovery, who has been sober or drug-free for months or years, check in on them frequently. This period of reduced social contact can be dangerous for them. Search “Ohio Strive for 5” and #OHStrive5 for tips on how to stay connected.
- Know the signs of overdose.