Training Primer 2

There is an urgent need to reduce substance use stigma.

Stigma begins with the negative stereotyping of people, creating a separation between “us” and “them”. Those who are stigmatized can be devalued and subjected to discrimination, which is unfair treatment due to one’s identity. This can lead to disadvantage and inequitable social and health outcomes.

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CHANGING HOW WE TALK ABOUT SUBSTANCE USE

The language we use has a direct and profound impact on those around us. The negative impacts of stigma can be reduced by changing the language we use about substance use.

TWO KEY PRINCIPLES INCLUDE:

  • Using neutral, medically accurate terminology when describing substance use
  • Using “people-first” language, that focuses first on the individual or individuals, not the action (e.g. “people who use drugs”)

It is also important to make sure that the language we use to talk about substance use is respectful and compassionate.

TOPICINSTEAD OFUSE
People who use drugsAddicts
Junkies
Users
Drug abusers
Recreational drug user
People who use drugs
People with a substance use disorder
People with lived/living experience
People who occasionally use drugs

This review indicates that negative attitudes of health professionals towards patients with substance use disorders are common and contribute to suboptimal healthcare for these patients.

In experimental research, the word “abuser” was found to increase stigma, which can affect quality of care and act as a barrier to treatment seeking in individuals suffering from addiction. Instead, many have recommended the use of terms that reflect a disorder (e.g., “substance use disorder”) and use of “person first” language.

Stigma takes the person out of the picture