Words matter: The language of addiction and life-saving treatments

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News articles, radio, and television frequently report on the current opioid crisis. As the death toll has mounted, the media has importantly covered many aspects of the crisis.
Focus on Addiction
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Harvard Medical School

Words matter: The language of addiction and life-saving treatments


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News articles, radio, and television frequently report on the current opioid crisis. As the death toll has mounted, the media has importantly covered many aspects of the crisis. Unfortunately, this coverage often focuses on the very visible individuals who continue to struggle with active addiction. What is missing is a narrative of hope for a chronic disease that is as treatable as diabetes or high blood pressure.

In addition to the pessimistic portrait painted about addiction, the language used by the media is often problematic. Articles frequently use the term “abuse” or “abuser” or refer to individuals as “addicts.” Even the term “clean” is laden when referencing sobriety, as it implies that someone who is actively using is somehow “dirty.” The language we use related to addiction treatment also impacts stigma.

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