Updated: Jul 22
The Power of Words & How You Can De-Stigmatize Your Own Language
For the past three years, we at CCSA have worked towards eradicating stigma, opening dialogue, and providing our Jewish communities with the resources and knowledge necessary to combat addiction.
With this mission in mind, we titled ourselves as CCSA: Communities Confronting Substance Abuse.
What we did not fully realize at the time was that the word “abuse” holds negative connotations for many people, and is thus becoming increasingly obsolete when discussing addiction and substance use issues. In 2013, the DSM-V replaced the terminology “substance abuse” under the umbrella diagnosis of “substance use disorder.” Since then, medical facilities and other agencies have begun to phase out the word from their vernacular.
Research backs this idea that the word “abuse” might be harmful to those suffering. When people hear “abuse,” they associate the issue with a moral failing or a conscious decision to inflict harm. But these connotations don’t reflect reality at all!
Well, it’s just a word…what could really be the harm in using it?
The answer is – there’s a lot of potential harm.
In a 2016 paper he co-wrote for the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) entitled ‘Changing the Language of Addiction,’ Michael P. Botticelli states, “Stigma isolates people, discourages people from coming forward for treatment and leads some clinicians, knowingly or unknowingly, to resist delivering evidence-based treatment services.” In fact, only one in ten people who need treatment for substance use disorders ever receive it. Stigma is a huge barrier.
Over 20 million Americans struggle with addiction. Last year, the overdose rate peaked in America with a devastating 90,000+ deaths due to drug overdoses. Of course, some of that is due to Covid-19 and the heartbreaking loss and isolation our world went through. But some of that is because of the stigma that persists amongst society and within the medical industry, preventing sufferers from seeking life-saving treatment.
Stigmatizing language also creates misunderstandings with family or friends, leads to workplace discrimination against those suffering with a substance use disorder, causes bullying or harassment, leads to discriminatory health policies, and reinforces a sufferer’s own internalized negative self-worth. In short, stigmatizing language makes those struggling suffer even more. Stigma literally kills.
How we can all change our language…
We at CCSA value the voices of individuals in recovery, who strive to be understood as more than their disease. We value the power of language in addressing these issues. And we recognize the impact that our words can have.
Here is a short cheat sheet of words we can all use to positively alter our language:
To conclude, we are proud to announce that we are still CCSA.
We are Communities Confronting Substance Use & Addiction.
Author: Ellie Forman is a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist with over three years in recovery from addiction. She is the daughter of Lianne and Etiel Forman, and works as CCSA's Prevention Outreach Coordinator. She is also a graduate student at University of Pennsylvania, currently researching public health communications and popular culture.
To submit a post to the CCSA blog or to find out more information regarding submissions, please reach out to Ellie Forman at firstname.lastname@example.org
**chart originally taken from: Words Matter - Terms to Use and Avoid When Talking About Addiction | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)