Changing how we talk about substance use

Download the alternative format
(PDF format, 95 KB, 1 page)

Organization: Health Canada

Date published: 2018

Related Topics

The language we use has a direct and profound impact on those around us. The negative impacts of stigma can be reduced by changing the language we use about substance use.

Two key principles include:

  • Using neutral, medically accurate terminology when describing substance use
  • Using “people-first” language, that focuses first on the individual or individuals, not the action (e.g. “people who use drugs”)

It is also important to make sure that the language we use to talk about substance use is respectful and compassionate.

  • People who use drugs
    • Instead of “addicts” use people who use drugs
    • Instead of “junkies” use people with a substance use disorder
    • Instead of “users” use people with lived/living experience
    • Instead of “drug abusers” use people with lived/living experience
    • Instead of “recreational drug user” use person who occasionally uses drugs
  • People who have used drugs
    • Instead of “former drug addict” use people who have used drugs
    • Instead of referring to a person as being “clean” use people with lived/living experience or people in recovery
  • Drug use
    • Instead of “substance/drug abuse” or “substance/drug misuse” use:
      • substance/drug use
      • substance use disorder/ opioid use disorder
      • problematic [drug] use
      • [drug] dependence

This document was created in discussion with people with lived and living experience, through existing research and documentation from other organizations trying to address stigma. This is not an exhaustive list. Furthermore, as a result of the evolving discussion around the best language to use to accurately discuss substance use, this list will likely be revised.

Report a problem or mistake on this page
Please select all that apply:

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: