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Reducing Stigma

How you talk about addiction matters. The sigma surrounding addiction is one of the main reasons why those who struggle with SUD don’t seek treatment. It is important that we are thoughtful with how we talk about SUD to ensure that we are promoting non-stigmatizing behaviors and encouraging individuals to seek treatment.

The Boston Medical Center has created this chart of stigmatizing language vs non-stigmatizing language. Referring to the terms below when deciding how you will talk about SUD is a great way to ensure that you are not contributing to the harmful stigma.

Non-Stigmatizing Language

Stigmatizing Language

Person with a substance use disorder

Substance abuser or Drug Abuser






Babies born with an opioid dependency

Addicted Babies/born addicted

Substance use disorder/Addiction

Use, misuse

Risky, Unhealthy, or heavy Use

Drug Habit



Person in recovery


Not drinking or taking drugs


Treatment or medication for addiction

Medication for opioid use disorder/medication for alcohol use disorder

Positive, negative (toxicology screen results)

Substitution or replacement therapy

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Clean, Dirty

*Information in the toolkit is adapted from the Boston Medical Center’s opioid resources*

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