Nearly 20 million Americans are struggling with addiction, yet over 90% of them will not receive treatment, in large part due to the stigma surrounding the disease. One way to destigmatize addiction is to change the language that we use to describe it, starting now.
Why Addiction Stigma Stops Patients from Seeking Treatment
Published: November 1, 2018
Onscreen: Nearly 20 million Americans are struggling with addiction, yet over 90% will not receive treatment. One key reason is the stigma surrounding addiction.
Michael Botticelli: One of the biggest factors that prevent people from asking for help is fear of what their neighbors are going to think or what their employers are going to think. And that stigma gets perpetuated in the language that we use.
Laura Kehoe: The term clean implies that you can only be clean if you're not using any substances um, and it implies also, that then you're dirty or of filth if you're struggling or using.
Sarah Wakeman: When someone has cancer, or if someone has diabetes, or heart disease, we'd call them a patient. We talk about them enduring an illness or surviving an illness. If you think about the words we use with addiction, first we label people as their disease, so we call someone an addict or an alcoholic, things like substance abuse or substance abuser. Again, we would never call someone with diabetes a food abuser, or sugar abuser.
Kehoe: And it continues to fuel that notion that the patients’ are abusing their bodies, abusing the system, um all of these negative implications, which are completely wrong and continue to drive stigma.
Wakeman: That gets translated into how people think about treatment, and the type of treatment that we offer to people.
Botticelli: Language influences public policy. So, there’s been a number of studies to show what we think of people with addiction, influences whether or not we believe they should be, have access to treatment, or have access to employment, and housing opportunities. There’s lots of manifestations of stigma, but one of the things we can do right now to really destigmatize it is change the language that we use.
Written, Produced, and Directed by: Sarah Holt
Camera: Stephen McCarthy
Assistant Camera: Nikki Bramley
Associate Producer: Jaro Savo
Co-Producer: Julia Crawford
Digital Producer: Ana Aceves
Music: Sheldon Mirowitz
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2018