​​Yo​ur Words Matter​​​​

Although substance use disorders are chronic and treatable medical conditions, studies show people with these disorders still face discrimination and stigma (a set of negative attitudes and stereotypes) that can impact their health and well-being in numerous ways. This stigma also affects people who use drugs who do not have a substance use disorder.

​Research shows the language people use can contribute to stigma and discrimination against people with substance use disorders, including by healthcare professionals.

​Language Choices Can Create Stigma Against People Who Use Drugs

Commonly used terms referring to people with addiction often reflect the misconception that their drug use and related behaviors are a choice, rather than a compulsion, and that they are to blame for their medical condition. Studies show that terms like “junkie” and “addict” feed negative biases and dehumanize people. In one study, clinicians rated a person described as a “substance abuser” as more worthy of blame and punishment than someone described as “having a substance use disorder.”

Terms to use, terms to avoid, and why:


​Instead of...


  • Person with a substance use disorder (SUD)
  • Person with an opioid use disorder (OUD) or person with opioid addiction
  • Person who misuses opioids/engages in unhealthy or hazardous opioid use
  • Person in recovery or long-term recovery/person who previously used drugs​
  • Addict
  • User
  • Substance or drug abuser
  • Junkie
  • Former addict
  • Reformed addict
  • ​Using person-first language shows that SUD and OUD are illnesses.
  • Using these words shows that a person with a SUD "has" a problem rather than "is" the problem.
  • The terms avoid elicid negative associations, punitive attitudes, and individual blame.​​
  • Testing positive (on a drug screen)
  • Dirty
  • Failing a drug test​​
  • ​Use medically accurate terminology the same way it would be used for other medical conditions.
  • These terms may decrease a person's sense of hope and self-efficacy for change.​
​​Content adapted from: National Institute on Drug Abuse


Addiction Language Guide with Implementation ​Resources for Organizational Leadership

Johns Hopkins Medicine: Reducing the Stigma of Addiction

SAMHSA: Overcoming Stigma, Ending Discrimination​

Words Matter - Terms to Use and Avoid When Talking About Addiction​