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Stigma and substance use disorder

Hoosiers who struggle with substance use disorder face a wide range of stigmas. A stigma is a mark of disgrace that sets a person or a group apart. When our neighbors and loved ones are labeled primarily by their substance use disorder, they are being negatively stereotyped.

In addition to educating ourselves on addiction, treatment and recovery, we can also:

  • Offer support to friends and neighbors who are struggling.
  • Listen while withholding judgment.
  • Treat anyone suffering from substance use disorder with dignity and respect.
  • Avoid hurtful language.

Language that includes biased and hurtful words can lead to discrimination and social exclusion. Stigma and discrimination are barriers not only to acknowledging the problem but also to seeking and accessing treatment and, ultimately, to recovery.

According to the National Council of Behavioral Health’s “Language Matters” guide, here are some examples of stigma-reducing language that should be used:

Say this...

Not this...

Person with opioid use disorder.

Addict, user, druggie, junkie, abuser


Drug habit

Person living in recovery


Person arrested for a drug violation

Drug offender

Substance dependent


Medication is a treatment tool

Medication is a crutch

Had a setback


Maintained recovery; substance-free

Stayed clean

Negative drug screen


Positive drug screen

Dirty drug screen

Stigma-Reducing Language Guide: Recommended Language & Rationale

Take a deeper dive into stigma-reducing language in “Addiction Language Guide” from Shatterproof. This easy-to-read resource provides context for why the words we use are so important, while focusing on person-first language.