Best Ways to Respond to Shame and Stigma after Treatment



Best Ways to Respond to Shame and Stigma after Treatment


The journey to recovery often begins with the goals of overcoming addiction and reintegrating into the workforce and rebuilding social networks. However, people embarking on this journey often deal with uncomfortable questions or remarks regarding addiction. Sometimes these statements catch recovered addicts off guard, especially when they come from people who seem to be well-meaning and don’t realize how inappropriate or disparaging their language or sentiments about those struggling with addiction, and most of all, actively in treatment or recovery to better their lives.


Talking about opioid addiction with people can be tricky, especially if they’re uninformed. While it may seem that the opioid epidemic in America has been practically impossible to ignore over the past two decades, there are still many people who are unaware of the specifics and how many people developed substance use disorder unconsciously or through doctor-prescribed medication. Whether these conversations occur with acquaintances or with closer family and friends, being prepared to deal with stigmatic or shaming remarks can make the entire situation easier to handle while also building confidence.


Talking about Opioid Addiction


When in a social setting, there are certain phrases and words that can be helpful to guide the conversation in a way to avoid shaming or disrespectful comments, whether intentional or not:


  • Using person-first language such as “person with substance use disorder” instead of derogatory terms like “junkie” or “addict” helps elevate the conversation for people to better understand that addiction is a disease.

  • Terms to avoid: habit, former/reformed addict, substance/drug abuser, and clean/dirty. Instead, use words like opioid use disorder, patient, person in recovery, substance use disorder, drug addiction, not actively using, in remission, or in recovery.

  • When discussing the treatment process, it’s essential to use correct language such as medication-assisted treatment, if the relationship or closeness with the person asking calls for it—explaining how the medicines work can help them better understand the journey.

  • If acquaintances ask “what happened?” or state that “they heard about what happened,” it’s best to speak about substance use disorder and its treatment as though it were any other chronic condition that required medical attention.


The impact of stigma is far-reaching among those with substance use disorder, from those who have yet to seek treatment to those who have been in recovery for years. Many people who deeply need help for their drug misuse are ashamed to ask for help due to how people with addiction are viewed, making the problem much worse on a societal level.


By using people-first language, more people struggling with addiction are likely to receive help and be embraced by others around them and even health care providers. Avoiding stigmatizing language also makes it easier for others to open up about their struggles and feel less in denial about a potential diagnosis. Once more people begin to view addiction as a disease, it will help spark the paradigm shift needed to clamp down on the opioid crisis that is still plaguing millions of Americans.


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