Stigma & Language
Our survey shows that many people have experiences of discrimination or stigma because of their drug use, with majority coming from their own family or friends. This then followed from the wider community, the police and healthcare services.
Some ways to tackle stigma with family and friends.
It can be really hard to talk about substance use as it’s often viewed through a “moral” lens. This can lead to stigma, as well as the subject being swept under the rug. Frequently, family members and friends don’t understand the nature of substance use. Many people are then left feeling guilty, or helpless. Drug dependency is still significantly less talked about and typically remains a secret, just as mental illness was formerly a taboo topic.
Education leads to understanding and helps to reduce stigma. Talk to your loved ones about the reality of addiction with some support (counsellor, treatment team), resources and tools. Try to dismiss the negative narrative portrayed by social media, news and naysayers. Your addiction does not define you! Here are some ways you can address the topic with your loved ones:
How physical signs and symptoms such as sleep difficulties, vomiting/ nausea, sweats and chills, fever, tremors and weight gain or weight loss, are physically and emotionally exhausting.
How addiction affects the brain in both the short and long term, resulting in poor decisions and unexplainable actions.
How substance abuse frequently coexists with mental health issues such as trauma, anxiety and depression.
How treatment strategies for addiction can help.
Having support really makes a difference.
When working with people who use alcohol and other drugs
Instead of saying this… > Try this!
Abuse/ misuse/ problem use/ non-compliant use > Substance use/ non-prescribed use
Drug user/abuse > Person who uses/injects drugs
Addict/ junkie/ druggie /alcoholic > Person with a dependence on..
Suffering from addiction/ has a drug habit > Person experiencing drug dependence
Clean/ sober/ drug-free > Person who has stopped using drugs
Ex-addict/ former addict/ used to be a.. > Person with lived experience of drug dependence
Lacks insight/ in denial/ resistant/ unmotivated > Person disagrees
Not engaged/ Non-compliant > Treatment has not been effective/chooses not to
Drug seeking/ manipulative /splitting > Person’s needs are not being met
Using again/ fallen off the wagon/ had a setback > Currently using drugs
Stayed clean/ maintained recovery > No longer using drugs
Dirty/clean urine > Positive/negative urine drug screen
Dirty or clean needle/ dirties > Used/unused syringe
Replacing one drug for another > Pharmacotherapy is treatment
Adapted from Network of Alcohol and other Drug Agencies (NADA) and NSW User and AIDS Association (NUAA), Language Matters from the National Council for Behavioural Health, United States (2015) and Matua Raki, New Zealand (2016)