Changing the Language Around Substance Use Disorder

Changing the Language Around Substance Use Disorder

October 13, 2019
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Signatures: 283Next Goal: 500
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Why this petition matters

Started by AIM Angels In Motion

Changing the Language Around Substance Use Disorder

The words we use matter and they can either foster or reduce the deadly stigma surrounding substance use and substance use disorders. Research has demonstrated that there is tremendous power in the words we use, and that certain words elicit stigma and bias while other words reduce stigma and bias.
For instance, the research demonstrates that use of words like “abuse,” “abuser,” “addict,” “junkie,” and “alcoholic” negatively affects perceptions and judgments around individuals with substance use disorders, including whether they should receive punishment rather than medical care for their disease.
With this understanding in mind, person-first language has been identified and adopted by professional associations, scientific journals and the Associated Press to replace negative terms that have been used to label people who have health conditions and disabilities.
The importance of moving away from stigmatizing language has also been discussed in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
And while progress has been made, we still have a long way to go.
So we, the loved ones of people who live with a substance use disorder, are asking for your assistance in changing the language associated with substance use disorder.
The following are words we ask you to avoid and suggestions for replacement words.


1. Substance abuse/abuser 

2. Alcoholic, Drunk  

3.Junkie , Addict, Abuser 

4. Clean 


6. Former addict/clean/sober 

7. Drug Addicted Infant                                                                                                        


1. Substance Use Disorder

2.Person with alcohol use disorder

3. Person with Substance use disorder 

4. Negative/ substance free/ abstinent

5. Positive/ actively using

6. Person in Recovery/ substance free/ abstinent

7. Substance Exposed Infant     



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Signatures: 283Next Goal: 500
Support now

Decision Makers

  • Journalists
  • Loved ones of those with Substance Use Disorder