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Stephanie Pellitt

Policy and Advocacy Associate

National Council Submits Comments on Changing the Language of Addiction

November 3, 2016 | Addictions | Comments
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On Thursday, the National Council submitted comments to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) on its draft guidance, Changing the Language of Addiction. The draft document is intended to advise federal agencies on terminology to use when discussing substance use and substance use disorders. Inappropriate terminology perpetuates negative stereotypes about people living with addictions, creating a disincentive for individuals to seek treatment for their disease. The National Council commends the ONDCP for their attention to this issue and offered the following comments and recommendations.

People First Language

We support ONDCP’s recommendation that individuals and organizations adopt “person-first language” as no individual should be defined by any health condition or disability.

Addiction is a Disease

We support the guidance document’s classification of substance use disorder as a chronic disease. Like other chronic diseases, addiction requires long term treatment and often involves multiple cycles of treatment. Additionally, we appreciate ONDCP’s specific clarification that medication-assisted treatment is an effective treatment for addiction that does not simply trade one drug for another.

The National Council advised ONDCP to amend its guidance to make clear that addiction medicine is on par with other medical specialties with clinicians utilizing a number of evidence-based cognitive, behavioral, and medication therapies to treat addictions.

Continuum of Addiction

Within the guidance’s document’s discussion of addiction as a disease, ONDCP should note that the successful treatment of addictions requires a full continuum of care including prevention, treatment, and recovery supports and services. Our language should reflect that no single course of treatment is appropriate for all individuals, rather there are many pathways to recovery from alcohol and drug addiction.

ONDCP should further add to its guidance document terms that show the stages of substance use to further the understanding of the process of addiction. Our society is not divided into individuals that use substances and those that do not. There is continuum of substance use ranging from no use to physical and mental dependence.

Avoid Using Slang Terms and Celebrate Recovery

As ONDCP explains in its guidance, we should avoid using slang terms to describe people with substance use disorders and instead use clinically accurate, non-stigmatizing terminology. For instance, people with addictions should not be referred to as “clean” or “dirty” based on the results of drug screening.

Lastly, the National Council encourages ONDCP to expand the guidance document “Person in Recovery” section to recommend the sharing and promotion of stories of recovery from addiction. Stories of recovery should highlight that recovery is not solely based on abstinence from using drugs and alcohol, but involves improved functioning across all sectors of person’s life such as work, physical health, and relationships with friends and family.

By creating an appropriate, unified language for the field of addiction ONDCP can encourage more people affected by substance use to access treatment services. The National Council looks forward to working with ONDCP and other federal agencies to continue changing the conversation around addiction. Read our full comments here.