Person in active addiction


Person with a substance misuse disorder


Person experiencing an alcohol/drug problem

Why it works:  these modifiers give identity to individuals as people, rather than labeling them by their illness.


Substance misuse disorder


Alcohol and drug disorder (or disease)

Why it works:  TBy incorporating disorder or disease, these terms reinforce the medical nature of the condition

Drug Habit

Person who misuses alcohol/ drugs


Has a mental health condition (or diagnosis)

Why it works: conveys the message that an individual's total identity is not his or her illness label, rather, he or she is a full person that happens to have the experience of mental illness.

Crazy/Psycho Insane/Lunatic


Why it works: Indicates the patient is free from the dangerous compulsive behaviors of addiction. Less stigmatizing than “clean” or “sober” yet shows the person is no longer in active addiction.


Resources for Community Partners

Impact of Person-First Language for Community Partners. Stigma blocks access to employment, housing, assistance, and quality healthcare. So it is critical that community partners that may help provide these and other resources use appropriate language. One in four Americans lives with a mental health or substance use disorder. The stigma experienced by individuals living with mental health, substance use disorder, opioid use disorder, or HIV is one of the biggest barriers to treatment and recovery. When we stigmatize, we view others through a lens of false assumptions, focus solely on a diagnosis, and reduce a person to a label.

Stigmatizing words can discourage, isolate, shame, and embarrass someone with a chronic condition. Entire groups of people become devalued and excluded from society when disorder-labeling language is used to describe socially unacceptable health conditions. People may decide not to seek the critical—often life-saving—services offered by the community because of the stigma they encounter from these providers.

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