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Words hurt

We need to start to consider the language we use when talking about addiction.

Start challenging the derogatory terms you may hear being used to describe addiction. Think about the language you use - are you focusing on the person behind the addiction, rather than their condition? This small change can make a huge difference to the person you're speaking about. Have they experienced trauma in their lives?

Do they use substances as a coping mechanism for hardships that you might not even be aware of?

By considering your language, you can work towards creating an environment and culture that recognises addiction as a long term health condition and makes it more likely that those experiencing addiction can feel supported to seek help and treatment.

Language has power - let’s use it. Download our guidelines for the use of non-stigmatising language when speaking & writing about addiction.

"They challenged me saying ‘you are not who you say you are, you’re a methadone addict’ now they didn’t say methadone patient, methadone user, they said methadone addict, the way it was spoken was with contempt…"

- A contributor to our Breaking Stigma Down report, co-produced with Working With Everyone

We all have a part to play. Let's end the stigma of addiction, challenge our mindsets and think about what help we would want if we or a loved one had been affected. The words we use to describe mental illness or substance use disorders (addiction) can be painful and isolating to people who experience them. Words such as 'junkie', 'smackhead' and 'druggie' reduce the individual to nothing but their addiction, when they are real people who have a story to tell.

Listen to James* talk about his experiences of stigma:

*Names have been changed


adults entered services for drug and alcohol treatment in 2020-2021¹


people died while in contact with treatment services in 2020-2021¹


drug-related deaths in 2021, the highest since records began²


Stigma can show in the way a healthcare professional speaks to their patient. This can result in people who are seeking help being made to feel that they are a burden no one cares about helping, that they are taking up unnecessary time and that they are not deserving of treatment for their addiction. When people are constantly unable to access the help they need and are even told that it's their fault they're unwell, they begin to internalise this stigma, withdrawing from services.

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