Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

Destigmatizing Addiction: The Power of Words


Please use the term 'person with substance use disorder’ instead of ‘addict’!

I graduated from medical school in Armenia, and communication skills weren’t viewed as a critical tool to learn during training. It wasn’t until recently that I learned that the use of certain terms can cause patients to feel stigmatized.


People with substance use disorder, or other kind of addiction, face discrimination in our society. Using words like “addict,” “substance user,” or “junkie,” causes people to feel at fault for their condition. Please use language like “people with substance use disorder,” instead of “substance user,” or, “baby born to a mother who used drugs while pregnant,” instead of, “addicted baby.”


The use of certain terms can introduce negative bias when discussing addiction. Here are some things to remember while talking to a patient:


1. Use the term “substance use disorder,” or “drug addiction.”


2. Use “person with substance use disorder,” or, “person in recovery,” not “addict” or “former addict.”


3. Test results should be communicated as “negative” or “positive.” Don’t refer to results as being “clean” or “dirty.”


4. For treatment purposes, “medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD),” is preferred to “medication assisted treatment (MAT).”






This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.