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 Law Enforcement

Impact of Person-First Language for Law Enforcement. When police officers interact adaptively with those suffering from mental illness, opioid use disorder, substance use disorder, and HIV, outcomes are generally more positive. Effective communication skills, understanding these disorders and their consequences, and treating people with compassion and respect, will more likely lead to non-violent conflict resolution. Encounters between the police and people with these disorders have most likely increased as part of the deinstitutionalization process of some mental health and recovery services. The use of appropriate language BY law enforcement can positively affect the ways individuals VIEW law enforcement. Inappropriate language can have the opposite effect by stigmatizing individuals suffering and lead to a higher level of conflict.

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 treatment they need because of the stigma and social or economic consequences resulting from the way they’ve been defined.

EVERYONE HAS A STORY | Lived Experience Voices

Hear the voices of people who know only too well what stigma looks like—because they have faced it. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to ending stigma. We hope these voices enlighten you and help you consider different approaches and new solutions to ending stigma.

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