Reduce Stigma

“Stigma isolates and discourages people from coming forward for treatment, and leads some clinicians, knowingly or unknowingly, to resist delivering evidence-based treatment services.”

– Michael Botticelli, Director of National Drug Control Policy.


Reducing the stigma surrounding substance use disorders is a critical step towards getting you, a loved one, a friend or a neighbor into treatment. A substance use disorder is an illness and does not define you or them. Being treated with dignity and respect makes it possible for individuals to seek treatment and get on a path to recovery.

Language Matters

The language we use matters greatly. Respectful, non-stigmatizing language when describing substance use disorders, addiction and people who use drugs is needed to promote health and healing. Whether used in a healthcare setting or in the news media, negative and stigmatizing language discredits people who use drugs and can result in discrimination. 

Use Person-First Language

Refer to a person before describing their behavior or condition. This is important because it acknowledges that a person’s condition, illness, or behavior is not that person’s defining characteristic. For examples, use “person with an opioid use disorder” instead of “opioid user” or “addict.”

Use Language That Reflects the Medical Nature of Substance Use Disorders

Avoid terms that reinforce a belief that addiction is a failure of morals or personality rather than a medical issue. Numerous factors contribute to drug addiction, from personal factors to social, environmental and political ones. Use “addictive disease” and “substance use disorder” instead of “drug abuser” or “junkie.” 

Avoid Slang and Idioms

Slang terms and idioms have negative connotations and a significant level of stigma attached to them—for examples, use “positive” or “negative” when referring to drug tests instead of “dirty” or “clean.”

When discussing substance use and the current overdose crisis, does language matter? Yes!

“Individuals living with Opioid Use Disorder and homelessness are one of the most unloved populations in our society—truly an untouchable. You may be the last person standing between that person and death. Any interaction you have with that individual can either be healing (contribute to their journey back to health) or harmful (adding to the amassed trauma in their life). Ultimately, you decide which it is.” 

– Dr. Howard Leibrand, Health Officer for Skagit County and addiction medicine physician with Ideal Option

Learn more about what terms to avoid, terms to use, and why:

Know How to Help

Have Honest Conversations

Take the step: have a conversation with your family and friends about the dangers of opioids. Your influence matters. Research has shown that kids are 50% less likely to use drugs when parents or a trusted adult talk to them about the risks. Often the hardest part of talking to family and friends about drugs is knowing where to start.


Learn how to start the conversation with a loved, and why it matters, by visiting:

Be Supportive, With Boundaries

When a loved one has a substance use disorder, they may seek ways to support their compulsion without significant regards for the consequences. Friends and family want to help but fear adding to the problem. The best time to offer support is when the person is actively taking steps to improve their wellbeing.  We suggest that you help when they are seeking help, otherwise be cautious—you might be part of their compulsion.  

It is imperative that loved ones continue to offer a helping hand, because they are often the primary lifeline to those struggling with substance use. To ensure that you are supporting the individual:

  • Encourage treatment and recovery, even when the individual states that they are not interested. 
  • Acknowledge that the disorder causes out-of-character behaviors and address it without judgment.
  • Be honest without blaming. 
  • Talk with professionals and support systems who can help you develop and set clear boundaries. 
  • Understand and establish realistic expectations. 
  • Communicate clearly. 
  • Learn about resources and services that can aid in a person’s treatment/recovery.

Care for Yourself

Self-care is an important aspect of helping someone with a substance use disorder. In fact, self-care is critical to surviving and thriving. While it is natural to spend time and energy on others, we must also make room to take care of ourselves. What are some things you like to do? Read, take a walk, have coffee with a friend, or get a massage. Perhaps attending an Al-Anon, Alateen, or Nar-Anon meeting, or receiving counseling for yourself would be beneficial. 


Every time we get on a plane, we hear flight attendants share some variation of the Oxygen Mask Rule: “Put your oxygen mask on first, before helping others.” This rule also applies to families and friends of those with a substance use disorder. When we do not care for ourselves, we cannot effectively care for others.  

Reach Out to Others