Talking About Substance Use and Addiction Online

May 23, 2019. Article by: Government of BC

Language changes as our understanding of things grows.

The more we understand something, the more we need language to evolve to reflect our growing knowledge. For example, health research has shown that substance use disorder is a medical issue, not a moral one. The language used to describe this topic has changed to reflect this awareness. Terms such as “addict” have evolved to “person with substance use disorder”. 

Language changes because words are powerful.

Words like “addict” create stigma, reducing people to labels and ignoring the full picture and history. By saying, “person with substance use disorder,” the person comes first, helping to reduce stigma and allowing more comfort to reach out for help.

Here are some examples of people-first language when talking about substance use – both online and in-person.

  • Instead of “drug user” try “person who uses drugs”.
  • Instead of “drug abuse” try “problematic substance use”.
  • Instead of “former addict” try “person in recovery”.

Understanding that language is always changing helps everyone talk about familiar subjects in a compassionate and respectful way. And when it comes to substance use and addiction, using the right words can help save lives.

Read definitions about words and phrases related to the opioid overdose emergency to grow your knowledge on this complex subject.

Learn more about why language matters when we talk about substance use.