Your choices now impact your future. Don't drink and drive.Watch Video
How we talk about addiction matters. With millions of Americans experiencing substance misuse, the conversation is a common one for students of all ages.
Understanding changes to terminology in addiction medicine can help us make the words we choose count.
Social stigma has long surrounded alcoholism, addiction, and all other forms of Substance Use Disorders (SUD). The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) describes stigma as “a discrimination against an identifiable group of people, a place, or a nation. Stigma about people with SUD might include inaccurate or unfounded thoughts like they are dangerous, incapable of managing treatment, or at fault for their condition.”
Despite what conventional wisdom might suggest, addiction does not reflect poor moral behavior or self-control. As the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) shares, addiction results from changes to brain circuits. These changes impair an individual’s decision-making and ability to control their substance use. While an SUD can be mild, moderate, or severe, at any stage addiction remains a treatable, chronic disease.
When stigmatized views founded in false beliefs persist, NIDA explains that problems can follow:
Reducing stigma around addiction and other forms of SUD starts with fostering accurate awareness. Bringing more informed language to the discussion surrounding substance misuse can help.
While SUDs may shape what an individual experiences, they do not define who they are. The language we choose when discussing substance misuse must take this distinction into account. How can we do this? By trading terms like “junkie” or “addict” for “a person with an SUD.” Or avoiding use of “clean” to describe a person’s drug test status, and instead acknowledging them as “sober."
Terms that focus attention on a person with an SUD, rather than their experience of addiction as a problem, embody what Stop the Addiction Fatality Epidemic (SAFE) Project calls person-first language. The organization defines this language as speech that “conveys respect and acceptance by emphasizing the fact that people with behavioral, psychological, or substance use issues are first and foremost just that: people.”
When we use language that emphasizes people before their conditions, we can lessen stigma as a barrier to seeking help. Those with an SUD can find freedom from the judgment of colleagues in the workplace. They can also escape different treatment among friends.
According to SAFE Project, person-first language can best reduce stigma when combined with:
Find more ways you can help reduce stigma
Below is a breakdown of some of the key terminology currently used in addiction medicine. Diagnostic criteria from DSM–5 shape many of these terms.
Addiction - The SAMHSA describes addiction as the “most severe form of substance use disorder, associated with compulsive or uncontrolled use of one or more substances. Addiction is a chronic brain disease that has the potential for both recurrence (relapse) and recovery.” Addiction can develop with severe use of any substance. This includes alcohol, illicit drugs and over-the-counter drugs.
Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) - The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines an AUD as “a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences. It encompasses the conditions that some people refer to as alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, alcohol addiction, and the colloquial term, alcoholism.”
Binge drinking increases a person’s risk of developing the disorder. Experiencing two or more criteria symptoms indicates AUD, with cases ranging in severity.
Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD) - According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NBCI), CUD is “a behavioral disorder that can occur with chronic cannabis use.” The disorder covers cannabis abuse and dependence driven by nine pathological patterns.
SAFE Project shares that cannabis products stem from species of the Cannabis plant. Only some of these species serve as marijuana. Cannabis use can occur for therapeutic or recreational purposes under a legal status that varies by state.
Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) - The American Psychiatric Association (APA) states that OUD is “a problematic pattern of opioid use leading to problems or distress.” Systemic over-prescription of opioids and the resulting tolerance, dependence, and addiction have fueled an opioid epidemic in the United States. Experiencing two or more of the criteria symptoms or behaviors within a year of using opioids qualifies as an OUD. Opioids are available as prescription medications or in illegal forms.
Substance misuse - According to the SAMHSA, substance misuse is “the use of any substance in a manner, situation, amount, or frequency that can cause harm to users or to those around them.” All use of certain substances qualifies as misuse, such as illicit drugs.
Any substance use among teens—including underage drinking and drug use—also represents misuse.
Substance use - The SAMHSA identifies substance use as the “use—even one time—of any substance.”
SUD - The SAMHSA defines an SUD as a “medical illness caused by repeated misuse of a substance or substances." Those experiencing two or more criteria symptoms are considered to have an SUD. The disorder can develop over time with any substance, regardless of if it generates withdrawal or tolerance.
Your choices now impact your future. Don't drink and drive.Watch Video
Binge drinking is all the rage with BORGs, a new alcohol concoction.Read Article
An all-too-familiar story of prescribed medications leading to deadly addiction.Watch Video
How can you help teens stay safe on prom night? Keep reading to find out.Read Article
There is an opioid crisis sweeping the nation, and fentanyl is at the center of it.Read Article
Why do teens vape? Mental health plays a big part in their reasoning.Read Article
A new generation of nicotine addicts have easy access to vaping, and they don't know the risks.Read Article
Learn why parents have been easing up on alcohol rules, and the consequences they don't know they're bringing on.Read Article
There are ways to spot marijuana use in teens. Learn about some here.Read Article
Approaching your teen about serious topics can be hard. This gives you a good place to start.Read Article
A simple introduction to cannabis terms.Read Article
Learn about the dangers of the wide-spread drug, cannabisRead Article
The drug market might be following your teen home.Read Article
Vaping paves the pathway to other addictions for young nicotine users.Read Article
What harm can prescription drugs pose to teens?Read Article
How a WWII study proves this parenting theory wrongRead Article
Learn about nitrous oxide and its popularity with teens.Read Article
Substance misuse is growing among teens. Learn some of the factors, and what you can do about them.Read Article
Learn about the various types of impaired driving and the dangers they create.Read Article
All teens are at risk of falling into substance misuse. Learn how to spot the signs and what to do about them.Read Article
Learn why alcohol impaired driving has been on the rise, and what you can do to stop it.Read Article
A look at how alcohol affects the developing brains of teenagers.Watch Video
This product was supported by SAMHSA grant funding.Watch Video
Real talk from real teens on avoiding alcohol in high school.Watch Video
We break down the science and social factors of nicotine addiction.Watch Video
Parents share their perspectives on teen drinkingWatch Video
Nicotine is a chemical you don't want to wrestle with.Watch Video
Law enforcement officers talk about their experiences with underage drinkers.Watch Video
Healthline's Carly Vandergriendt shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about alcohol.Read Article
Watch this video to learn how alcohol reacts in the bodyWatch Video
Real talk on a tough topicWatch Video
The story of one young life cut short by a dangerous decision and tragic circumstances.Watch Video
Bro! For the first time ever, teenage girls now consume more alcohol than their male peers. Read why this flip of the alcohol gender gap has serious implications.Read Article
Alcohol & Social MediaRead Article
Why binge drinking is a prevalent issue among teens, and how you can prevent itRead Article
Healthy Ways to Cope with a Changed WorldRead Article
Pandemic Disruptions Continue for Students and FamiliesRead Article
America's opioid crisis: From TV shows to real-life tragediesRead Article
The decision to drink and drive can impact your future and put lives in danger. Choose to say no.Watch Video
For your family. For your friends. For your future. For you.Watch Video
Watch the 2021 Safe and Sober PSAWatch Video
Many teens are still struggling with emotional challenges as the world moves on from COVID-19. Our featured guest contributor breaks down some of the warning signs.Read Article
Opioid prescriptions are often misused. Safety is a top priority.Read Article
Middle and high school students have been in the center of a mental health crisis for years, but the COVID-19 pandemic brought the situation into sharp focus.Read Article
It's not safe, no matter how you spin it.Read Article
Start the conversation about mental health with your teen.Read Article
The earlier you can start the conversation, the better.Read Article