Terminology Leads To Addiction Stigma Even Among Treatment Professionals


"We found that referring to someone with the 'abuser' terminology evokes more punitive attitudes than does describing that person's situation in exactly the same words except for using 'disorder' terminology," explains study leader Dr. John Kelly, associate director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Addiction Medicine.

The Study

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital examined survey answers from health care professionals and found that the professional's attitude varied depending on the words used to describe the patient. When a hypothetical patient was referred to as a "substance abuser," mental health professionals were significantly more likely to agree that the patient should be punished for not following his treatment plan than if the same patient was referred to as "having a substance abuse disorder." The survey respondents were also more likely to place blame for treatment difficulties on patients referred to as "substance abusers."

What Does This Mean?

Dr. Kelly sums up the import of the study for those suffering from substance addiction: "From the perspective of the individual sufferers, who often feel intense self-loathing and self-blame, such terminology may add to the feelings that prevent them from seeking help."

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