4. Language and Stigma

Stigma is one of the largest barriers to accessing treatment for problematic substance use.[1]John F. Kelly, Richard Saitz & Sarah Wakeman (2016) Language, Substance Use Disorders, and Policy: The Need to Reach Consensus on an “Addiction-ary”, Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly. 34(1), p116-123 The creation of a new legal cannabis framework in Canada offers a unique opportunity to encourage de-stigmatizing conversations about substance use on campus so students can speak openly and make informed decisions about consuming psychoactive substances.

The language used is an important component in reducing stigma and breaking down the negative stereotypes associated with substance use. For example, the words used by healthcare professionals and other supports can contribute to suboptimal care.[2]Van Boekel, et al. (2013). Stigma among health professionals towards patients with substance use disorders and its consequences for healthcare delivery: systematic review. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 131 1-2, 23-35. By choosing to use non-stigmatizing language, students who are experiencing challenges may face less stigma and fewer barriers to accessing help.

It is a good idea to use neutral and precise language when talking about substance use as well as “people first” language that focuses on the individual. For example:

Instead of: Say:
Drug user Person who uses drugs
Stoner/pothead Person who uses cannabis
Drug abuser/addict Person with a drug use problem/person with a substance use disorder
Drug habit Regular substance use
Addicted to X Has an x use disorder
Former/ex-addict Person in recovery
Suffering from an addiction Person living with an addiction
Stayed sober/clean Maintained recovery
Drug offender Person arrested for a drug violation
Non-compliant Chooses not to at this point[3]Adapted from CCSA (2017) and Health Canada (2018)

 

References   [ + ]

1. John F. Kelly, Richard Saitz & Sarah Wakeman (2016) Language, Substance Use Disorders, and Policy: The Need to Reach Consensus on an “Addiction-ary”, Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly. 34(1), p116-123
2. Van Boekel, et al. (2013). Stigma among health professionals towards patients with substance use disorders and its consequences for healthcare delivery: systematic review. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 131 1-2, 23-35.
3. Adapted from CCSA (2017) and Health Canada (2018)
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