Substance Use Disorders: A Guide to the Use of Language


Key Question: How should language surrounding substance use disorders be curated to reduce associated negative stigmas? 

This guide draws attention to the terminology that currently causes confusion and perpetuates stigma within the prevention/treatment/recovery workforce, and it promotes the use of words that will advance the understanding of substance use disorders as a health issue. 

This language guide was created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT). Recognizing the power of words, this guide is designed to raise awareness around language and offer alternatives to stigmatizing terminology associated with substance use disorders. It is offered primarily as a resource to those who work within the field of prevention, treatment, and recovery support.

For more information: Opioid Crisis Management: Foundation Roadmap


  • Preface
  • Terminology
    • Words that Work
    • Words to Use with Caution
    • Words to Avoid
  • Sources
Link to Tool: 

List of words that work:

  • Addiction
  • Addictive Disorder, Addictive Disease
  • Alcohol and Drug Disease
  • Alcohol and Drug-Related Problems 
  • Allies of Recovery, Friends of Recovery 
  • Chemical Dependency 
  • Dependence
  • Disease Management
  • Faith-Based Recovery 
  • Family illness/ Family Recovery 
  • Intervention
  • Medication-Assisted Recovery 
  • Mutual Aid (or Support) Groups
  • Partial Recovery 
  • Patient 
  • Person(s) or People With...
  • Recovery 
  • Recovery Capital 
  • Recovery Coach
  • Recovery Community 
  • Recovery Management 
  • Recovery Movement 
  • Recovery Process 
  • Recovery Support Groups 
  • Recovery Support Services
  • Remission
  • Roads (or Paths) to Recovery 
  • Misuse
  • Substance Dependence
  • Substance Use Disorder
  • Treatment 
  • Use
  • Wellbriety 

List of words that should be used with caution:

  • Chronic Disease
  • Client 
  • Customer
  • Enable 
  • Recovered vs In Recovery 
  • Relapse
  • Treatment Works 

List of Words to Avoid:

  • Abuse 
  • Abuser, Addict, Alcoholic 
  • Clean, Dirty (when referring to drug test results)
  • Consumer
  • Drug Problem
  • Habit or Drug Habit 
  • Problem Drinker
  • Self-Help Groups 
  • Substance Abuse 
  • Substance Abuser
  • Substance Abuse Treatment 
  • User

Type of Tool:

Publication Date: 

Stigma and Discrimination in the Language of Addiction, Dr. Kenneth Tupper