Words are important. We've been taught this since a young age. When we do not careful choose words when describing "this or that," it can, and usually will, have negative consequences. Unfortunately, this persists in today's society in an array of realms. Then the stigma is created. Stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace or infamy, a stain or reproach, as on one's reputation.
We tend to observe and find that substance use disorders carry a high burden of stigma. Fear of judgment means that people with substance use disorders are less likely to seek help, and more likely to drop out of treatment programs in which they do enroll.
In a report from the Samhsa's Center for the Application of Technologies, they tell us that, "the language we use to discuss substance use disorders (SUDs) either formally, as part of prevention messaging, or informally, in conversations with colleagues and stakeholders, can either increase or decrease SUD stigma. In the context of the growing opioid crisis, the language we use becomes particularly important as we find ourselves working in partnership with people who actively misuse substances and confront directly the myriad societal stigmas associated with having an SUD."
How do we curb this?
First, it is important to pay attention to how prevention language can exacerbate stigma. While this is not the easiest to recognize, we have to recognize that individual habits can be hard to break. Second, we can attempt to change how we communicate within and across systems to support the use of more respectful and inclusive language. This, too, can be even more of a challenge. Having an increased awareness of the relationship between language and stigma is key to breaking this cycle.
Language is critical when we communicate. With careful attention to language, we can reduce the burden of stigma surrounding substance use disorders, which will help those in need and eventually save lives. Words are important and they matter.