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Making Recovery Month Last: A Primer on Combating the Stigma of Addiction

With Recovery Month ending, it is a good opportunity for our community to stay mindful about stigma and its effects on peoples with substance use disorders. According to SAMSHA and Drugfree.org, approximately 23.5 million Americans are addicted to alcohol and drugs. That’s one in every 10 Americans over the age of 12.  Unfortunately, only 11 percent of those with an addiction ever receive treatment. 

Reasons for this disparity are most often attributed to poor access to care and stigma. Stigma can be defined as a discrimination against an identifiable group of people. Stigma about people with substance use disorders might include inaccurate or unfounded thoughts like: they are dangerous, incapable of managing treatment, or at fault for their condition.

What we all can do to help combat stigma and assist individuals to access treatment is to use more supportive language and continue to educate ourselves with accurate information about addiction and substance use disorders. Instead of using stigmatizing terms such as “addict, user, drug abuser, or junkie,”  we can use “person with substance use disorder, patient, person in recovery, or person who misused alcohol or drugs.”

Although subtle, these terms are known to be person-first and show that an individual has an issue or problem rather than that they “are” the problem.  These terms also remove negative associations, punitive attitudes, and individual blame toward a person who is actively suffering. Utilizing this language is one small step to combating stigma against substance use disorders and moves our community further ahead in supporting these individuals.

David Perry is a clinical social worker at North End Waterfront Health, Coalition Manager for the North End and board member of North End Against Drugs. If you or a loved one needs connection to Substance Use Disorder Services or if you would like additional information please call 617-981-3273.

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