Those suffering from addiction are often de-humanised and face stigmatisation. Sufferers report being labelled with stereotypes which seem to infer that they are somehow less valuable to those free from addiction problems. The use of language has played a role in addiction stigmatisation, creating stereotypes with negative connotations to those that they are assigned to. The media tends to use derogatory terms such as ‘addict’ and ‘alcoholic;’ words which are misleading as they are not diagnostic terms.

Illness Not Choice

For many years, addictions were not categorised as physical illnesses. As such, the terms used in diagnosis implied that those individuals suffering addiction were to blame and that the illnesses were in some way self-inflicted. This has led to a societal view of ‘addicts’ as ‘irresponsible’ members of society with conditions brought upon themselves by their behaviours and lifestyle choices.

Where it is true that addiction nearly always has it’s root in an initial choice, most don’t understand how easy it is to fall on to the path of addiction. People can become addicts from a single use of a drug, or can act out the exact same behaviour as their peer groups and end up addicted with their lives spiralling out of control, whilst their former friends carry on life without such problems. Genetics, personality, brain chemistry, mental state, and lots of other factors contribute to the process of forming an addiction.

Dr Sherman of the Centre for Motivation and Change is quoted to have said;

‘By continuing to use the term ‘’addict’ and ‘’alcoholic,’’ treatment providers are doing a disservice to their patients and potentially negating progress towards de-stigmatisation and successful long term treatment.’’

A Greater Understanding of Addiction

In recent years, our understanding of addiction has increased within the health care industry; yet the stigmatisation of addiction remains. To truly de-stigmatise addiction, when it comes to the complex nature of language, it is vital that the health care industry makes the effort to use more clinically appropriate language when discussing addiction. Furthermore, we need an evolution within society, to promote a move away from derogatory terms, targeted at those suffering addiction illnesses. Terms such as ‘a person struggling with addiction,’ or ‘an individual suffering from a substance use disorder’ are warmer terms which can transform perceptions.

Another challenge for the health care industry in the progression of addiction understanding lies with educating the general population. Education is the key to providing an understanding of substance misuse and addiction; assisting society in moving away from ignorance and towards a more positive, knowledgeable future.

Addiction is a societal problem, as well as an individual one. We need to create a better, more informed and understanding society to tackle the disease. By doing so we will help people suffering from addictions to re-assimilate into society with more compassion and ultimately in a more successful way.


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