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Remove the Stigma

Overdose Lifeline envisions a time when addiction does not carry a stigma in society, but instead is provided the care and attention required of a chronic disease.

Words Matter

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America has a long tradition of using stigmatizing words. ​Continued use of stigmatizing language perpetuates false stereotypes, spreads misinformation, and keeps people out of care. Changing how we talk about addiction will help remove barriers to getting help.

​Research shows that the language we use to describe [addiction] can either perpetuate or overcome the stereotypes, prejudice and lack of empathy that keep people from getting treatment they need.

Michael Botticelli
(One of nation’s leading addiction experts and former Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy)

Changing the language and removing the stigma provides people hope that someone cares enough to help them walk this journey, because it’s a difficult, scary journey and the resources available for medical care and understanding addiction are just not the same as there are for other chronic diseases.

Justin Phillips
Founder and Executive Director, Overdose Lifeline, Inc.

Stigma Harms the Individual and the Family

By talking about the disease of addiction, educating others, and choosing words which do not further stigmatize this chronic disease we can help remove or lower the barriers for someone getting help for themselves or others.

Overdose Lifeline is thankful to Marvetta, Matt and Kirstin for sharing their experience as part of the Overdose Lifeline online training ​Removing the Shame and Stigma of Substance Use Disorder.

How to Use Anti-Stigma Language

Example: Substance use disorder affects more than 21 million Americans, including my son who is in recovery today, but will live with this chronic disease for the rest of his life.

​​As the Anti-Stigma Toolkit says, “addiction doesn’t define who a person is, it describes what a person has. A person’s addiction represents only a part of the person’s life. Defining people exclusively by their addiction diminishes the wholeness of their lives.” Say “people with Substance Use Disorder”, “people with addiction”, etc.

Example: There are more than 43 million people with substance use disorder in America, 21 million in active addiction. It is likely that everyone knows someone affected directly or indirectly through a family member or loved one.

There is a long history of these negative, stigmatizing terms being used in movies, in the news, and in society. Everyone can do their part to change this historical practice by erasing these terms from your vocabulary altogether.

Don’t say: My father is using.  Say: My father is in active addiction (or active use) right now.

Say “he has a Substance Use Disorder,” “she is addicted,” “people with addiction,” or “addicted people” instead of “suffers from,” “afflicted with,” or “victims of” addiction.

When we sensationalize a disease through the use of these types of words we create a barrier that separates addiction from other less-stigmatized diseases. We don’t hear “there is a dementia scourge hitting America…”, we hear data and facts of the rise of people with dementia.

When people with addiction have a setback this is the same as when a person with diabetes stops managing their disease, takes fewer glucose readings and finds that their health is affected. We don’t say that they have relapsed off their care plan.

Use the medical term for the drug screen result “positive”. Do not use the stigmatizing word of “dirty” which assigns guilt/blame to the individual.

Join the #ChooseEmpathy Movement

Overdose Lifeline and Venables Bell and Partners created a campaign to shift common misperceptions and inspire greater understanding for those affected by Substance Use Disorder, their families and loved ones through the power of empathy .

Watch the Film. Take the Pledge. Sign the Petition.

Learn About Addiction, Naloxone and the Opioid Crisis with our Online Courses

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