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New Study Uncovers How Language Can Increase Stigma

language of addictionWords matter when it comes to stopping the stigma, shame and guilt that often accompanies addiction. A new study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that terms like “addict,” “alcoholic” and “substance abuser” have a strong negative bias and can play a role in stopping people from seeking help for a substance use disorder.

“Terms that seem to label the person — and invoke the negative attitudes toward the person rather than the disease — those are the ones that have the higher levels of bias,” lead study author Robert D. Ashford, a research assistant at the University of Pennsylvania and doctoral candidate in health policy at the University of the Sciences, told Whyy.org.

On the flipside, “person-first” language was associated with less negative implicit bias in the study. In other words, “person with a substance use disorder” was found to illicit less bias than “addict.”

This isn’t the first study to call into question the language of addiction. In 2010, researchers found that even doctors were influenced by derogatory drug language and less inclined to work with hypothetical patients described as “substance abusers.”

The University of Pennsylvania study tested a large selection of words under the context of substance abuse and recovery – and they all brought out negative associations. The words included:

  • Addict
  • Junkie
  • Criminals
  • Sinners
  • Substance abuser
  • Medication-assisted treatment

“Even the terminology of ‘in recovery’ versus ‘in treatment,’ I think makes a difference and is very important,” Dr. Brenda Curtis, assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, told reporters. “When we think of recovery, we think of something positive, when we think of treatment, we think of something negative.”

While researchers continue to explore the negative impact of stigmatizing words, we can play a part in spreading a positive message and work together to change the way society talks about the disease of addiction and those of us who are fighting in recovery. FRS has already moved away from using language like “alcoholic” or “addict” when we refer to our clients. We believe all clients must be treated with dignity and respect and changing the language we use in working with our clients is a first step toward reducing the stigma that those suffering with substance use disorders often experience.

A Safe, Stigma-Free Place to Recover
Family Recovery Specialists takes a person-first approach to recovery and offers teens and adults a highly individualized unique recovery plan rooted in evidence-supported methods and carefully designed to treat the whole person: body, mind and spirit. We are proud to help stop the stigma and provide the multicultural Miami community with the services they need to recover from a substance use disorder. To learn more about our programs, call today: call 305-595-7378.

Addiction Counseling in Miami, Florida

Family Recovery Specialists offers adolescent and adult substance abuse counselors, treatment and consulting in Miami.

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