The language we use has the propensity to shape our perceptions of ourselves, others, and how we view the world. The way in which we talk about addiction has a major impact on how we treat those with an addiction. According to, it is important that we use language that frames addiction and mental illness as health concerns and shows respect to all people impacted.

The American Psychiatric Association notes that approximately 20 million Americans have alcoholism or another addiction, but only one in ten people receive treatment. Stigma could be a major factor in this small number – making language surrounding addiction and treatment even more important. Harvard staff writer Colleen Walsh wrote in August of this year an article titled “Revising the language of addiction”. In this piece, she notes several terms identified by the American Society of Addiction Medicine that exploit and divide people:

  • The use of “abuse” and “abuser” – these terms imply a willful misconduct and impact the way individuals receive treatment.
  • Interchanging the words “dependency” and “addiction” – there are clear distinctions between both. Dependency means that withdrawal symptoms will appear if the drug is discontinued, and addiction is medical disorder in which a person is compulsively using more and more of the drug, despite the negative consequences it havocs in their life.
  • Describing someone as “clean” or “dirty” – this sort of language would not be used to describe someone with a different medical condition, and should not be used to describe someone with an addiction.
  • Describing someone as an “addict” or a “junkie” – these terms are derogatory and discredit the person for who they are; they insinuate that the person is only their addiction and nothing else.

Addiction is a medical condition and should be treated as such. The way in which we talk about addiction truly shapes our perceptions and signifies our thoughts and opinions of those who have an addiction. Many people fall into addiction without meaning to, yet our language implies that these people actively chose to become addicted to something. We cannot place all of those who have an addiction into one category, because each person is different and has a different story to tell.

The best course of action that we can take is to educate ourselves on the language that we are using and consider how our words make others feel. By changing our language to be person-centered, we are giving individuals the respect they deserve.

If you have an addiction, speak with someone from New Vista Behavioral Health today. We have many excellent facilities that offer exceptional care and support. Our licensed, professional team will help you begin your journey to recovery in a beautiful, home-like facility. Make the decision to take back control over your life. Call us today at 866-855-4202.

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