Tag Archives: stigma

Words are Hugely Powerful Mediators of Positive Change

Posted on August 1, 2017

Word Choice and Positive Outcomes

The leading barrier to treatment entry by people abusing substances is fear of stigma.

Words matter. Our beliefs about substance abuse and compulsive behavior problems—and the potential for change—are built into the words we use to speak about them. Maybe more importantly in this case is that words are reflective of culture beliefs, and the conveyors of those beliefs and attitudes.

And beliefs inform behavior. One study found that treatment providers who referred to patients as “addicts” had significantly more negative attitudes towards them when compared to treatment providers who referred to patients as having “substance use disorders.”

Words are an attitude, a belief, and have an impact. The leading barrier to treatment entry by people abusing substances is fear of stigma. Stigma is conveyed by word choice. Continue reading

Destigmatizing Addiction

Posted on November 18, 2014

What’s In A Name?
~ Brian Sherman, PhD, Center for Motivation and Change


“By continuing to use the term “addict” and “alcoholic,” treatment providers are doing a disservice to their patients and potentially negating progress towards destigmatization and successful long-term treatment.”

The Problem with LabelsWhat’s in a name? Sure, by any other name a rose may smell so sweet, but by any other name would an “addict” feel so stigmatized? Were Shakespeare alive today I would ask that he reconsider his stance. With the gradual pace of change in addiction treatment highlighted by the continued advancement and implementation of evidence-based treatments, why is the field so far behind in not using more clinically appropriate and de-stigmatizing — albeit a bit cumbersome – language such as: “person with a substance use disorder” or “person suffering from addiction”? It has been years now that the field of clinical psychology did away with stigmatizing terms such as “schizophrenic”, “manic-depressive”, or “autistic.” Why then does the field of addiction remain so far behind?

As an addiction psychologist I do not discourage my patients for whom the term “addict” works. If it motivates them to change, fantastic. For many people, the term “addict” is a helpful way of identifying symptoms and issues, and finding a way to connect and bond with others in a healthy way that promotes change. However, when that term creates a prolonged sense of failure or guilt which ultimately may lead to relapse (negative emotions are one of the strongest predictors of relapse) or prevent someone from seeking help in the first place (because they don’t want to accept the label, and the stigma that is associated with it), I question its utility. Continue reading

Ending the Stigma of Addiction

Posted on June 10, 2014

The Language of Recovery Advocacy
Guest Blogger: William White


Words are important.  If you want to care for something, you call it a “flower”; if you want to kill something, you call it a “weed”.  –Don Coyhis

Some will question why we as recovery advocates should invest valuable time debating the words used to convey alcohol and other drug (AOD) problems and their solutions when there are suffering individuals and families that need to be engaged, recovery support resources that need to be created, communities that need to be educated, and regressive, discriminatory policies that need to be changed.  We must invest this time because achieving our broader goals depends on our ability to forge a recovery-oriented vocabulary.      

Words have immense power to wound or heal.  The wrong words shame people with AOD problems and drive them into the shadows of subterranean cultures.  The wrong words, by conveying that people are not worthy of recovery and not capable of recovery, fuel self-destruction and prevent or postpone help-seeking. The right words serve as catalysts of personal transformation Continue reading