It is often said, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Unfortunately, some words can carry deep meanings with negative connotations that can negatively impact even though unintended. Let’s explore how another word for addiction can be used to help people in substance use recovery.

What’s in a Name?

When we label things, it can be easier to categorize, organize, deal with and understand them. Labels can also create negative connotations and disempower, victimize and harm people from making positive changes in their lives. The words “addiction” and “addict” are two such words that the recovery community has made strides to change — starting with the manual that diagnoses such disorders.

Another Word for Addiction

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (the manual used by mental health and healthcare professionals to diagnose and treat mental health disorders) updated the terms “substance abuse” and “substance dependence” and now calls them “substance use disorder.” Symptoms are now based on a scale of mild, moderate and severe. To qualify for the diagnosis of alcohol use disorder, a person now has to experience symptoms for 12 months and meet 2–3 of 11 criteria.

Why did they create another word for addiction? Simply put, many people view addiction as a choice or a character defect, but research shows that it is a disease that gets worse over time without treatment. Changing the term is hoped to change the persecution of substance use treatment and those who experience it. Changing the term to a  psychiatric disease or disorder also gives mental health and healthcare professionals more options for treatment, and it helps all people involved understand that it’s a condition much like cancer or diabetes — even though it can have a larger effect on family members and loved ones that other diseases may have.

Person-First Language

Person-first language is a way of speaking and writing that prioritizes the individual over their condition or diagnosis. This approach is particularly important when discussing substance use disorder, as it helps to reduce stigma and promote a more compassionate and respectful approach to treating this complex condition.

Using the term “addict” to describe someone with a substance use disorder can be stigmatizing and dehumanizing. This term reduces an individual to their condition, rather than acknowledging their humanity and the many factors that may have led to their substance use. Additionally, the term “addict” carries negative connotations and implies that the individual is entirely defined by their substance use, rather than being a complex and multifaceted individual.

To use person-first language when discussing substance use disorder, it is important to prioritize the individual rather than their condition. For example, instead of saying “the addict,” you could say “the person with a substance use disorder.” This phrasing emphasizes that the person is more than their condition and helps to reduce stigma by acknowledging the many factors that may have contributed to their substance use.

Another way to use person-first language when discussing substance use disorder is to avoid using labels altogether. Instead of using terms like “addict” or “drug user,” you could simply refer to the person by their name or use a neutral term like “person with lived experience.” This approach helps to avoid stigmatizing language and emphasizes the person’s humanity and worth, rather than their substance use.

Using person-first language is an important way to reduce stigma and promote a more compassionate and respectful approach to treating substance use disorder. By prioritizing the individual over their condition and acknowledging the many factors that may have contributed to their substance use, we can help to reduce shame and promote healing and recovery. As we continue to work to address the opioid epidemic and other substance use issues in our communities, it is essential that we use language that promotes empathy, respect, and understanding for all individuals affected by substance use disorder.

We Speak Member’s Language

The care team at Better Life Partners is here to help empower members in every step of the recovery process. We offer group sessions in English and Spanish, and we strive to help members feel seen, empowered, valued, welcomed, trusted, comfortable, secure, hopeful, motivated, cared for and important. We offer treatment plans that include member preference around evidence-based treatments like group therapy with CBT, medication-assisted treatment with medications like suboxone (buprenorphine-naloxone), and recovery coaching..

We’d love to share with you how we can help you or a loved one achieve recovery goals. Contact us today, so we can get started on the recovery journey.



No Sweat Shakespeare —

Addiction Policy Forum — DSM-5 Criteria for Addiction Simplified

PubMed ( — DSM-5: Important changes in the field of addictive diseases

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) ( — Understanding Drug Use and Addiction DrugFacts

Psychology Today — Addiction Is a Family Problem