Stigma is harsh, but it’s usually easier than untangling the truth about opioid use disorder. Some people think substance use disorders are about moral failure or character flaws. These perceptions create stigma and shame for people coping with addiction. Opioid misuse is a complex health issue. Yet, stigma often gets in the way of treatment.
Here’s more about the weight of stigma and how to change how we talk about opioid use disorder.
Opioid Addict – The weight of stigma
The Recovery Research Institute states that person-first language is less stigmatizing. According to the American Medical Association (AMA), the term “opioid addict” adds to the stigma in several ways:
- It labels the person as the problem rather than identifying a disorder.
- It adds judgment and blame, downplaying the fact that there’s a person needing help.
- The label implies that “being an addict” is a person’s identity.
- It does not indicate a person has a medical condition.
An opioid use disorder can develop rapidly, and treatment is vital for preventing serious consequences. Yet the burden of shame and opioid use disorder stigma can discourage people from seeking treatment. Medication for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD) and behavioral therapies can save lives. But according to the Recovery Research Institute, people are less likely to seek treatment when stigma gets in the way.
Why is Opioid Use Disorder the correct term?
Using the correct term is a simple way to change the perception of opioid use disorder (OUDs). Here are some important reasons why.
Keeps the focus on a person’s whole health picture
DrugAbuse.org states that people with OUDs often have other health issues. Cancer, heart disease and chronic pain are among the most common. According to the AMA, viewing OUD as a medical condition keeps the focus on a person’s whole health in mind.
The focus stays on the disorder, not the person
Committing to treatment takes courage and strength. Using a neutral term like opioid use disorder does not tear a person down when they are vulnerable. The focus stays on the disorder, not the person.
Opioid Use Disorder on par with other chronic medical conditions
To make opioid addiction help more accessible, people need to feel like there’s hope for recovery. The Prevention Action Alliance states that treating OUDs like other chronic medical conditions changes how people perceive them. These disorders become associated with healthy goals and treatment plans.
Talking about opioid addiction—word choice matters
As humans, we often fall back on stereotypes and assumptions. Why? Because they’re convenient and don’t require much thought. However, even a tiny pebble can make ripples when tossed into a lake. As you change what you say, you can influence those around you.
Become aware of the terms you use
Becoming aware of the terms you use may take some effort at first. But once you understand your mental habit, make a point to notice it. What does the term “opioid addict” make you think? And how does it differ when you think of a person with an “opioid use disorder?”
Kindly correct others when they use a stigmatizing term
When others use stigmatizing words, kindly state that the correct term is opioid use disorder. Mention that opioids are often used for pain management. And because of this, opioid use disorder could affect anyone’s family.
Be the first to talk about current events related to opioid use
News items about opioid use tend to be negative. But you can set a compassionate tone. When you can talk about the human behind the headlines, maybe someone else listening will, too.
When we see mental health and substance use disorders as health conditions, they can seem less mysterious. We understand how to treat physical health issues. With this shift, it becomes easier and less shameful for people to seek help.
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