“Drug Czar” Boticelli Urges Better Language When Talking About Addiction

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“Drug Czar” Michael Boticelli has released recent research indicating that changes in the way we talk about addiction could actually help those struggling with the disease. Current addiction vocabulary keeps stereotypes alive, and stigmatization is one of the main reasons addicted individuals do not get the help they need, according to Botticelli. In fact, a recent study published by the American Journal of Epidemiology indicates that more than 60% of those surveyed did not seek treatment due to the fear of being stigmatized.  Botticelli, who serves as Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, seeks to change that outcome by changing the conversation.

“Research shows that the language we use to describe this disease can either perpetuate or overcome the stereotypes, prejudice and lack of empathy that keep people from getting treatment they need,” Botticelli told The Huffington Post. “Scientific evidence demonstrates that this disease is caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors, not moral weakness on the part of the individual. Our language should reflect that.” For example, rather than describing someone as a substance abuser, addict, or alcoholic, one might use the term, “an individual suffering from a substance use disorder.”

Here are some of the changes being considered by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, to be compiled in a glossary and released to the public at a later date:

  • Addict: Person with substance abuse disorder; addicted individual
  • Addicted to heroin: Has a heroin use disorder
  • Alcoholic: Person with alcohol abuse disorder; addicted individual
  • Clean: Abstinent
  • Dirty: Actively using

Boticelli claims that changes in language go beyond political correctness. He says that language affects attitudes, and since addiction is a debilitating, life-threatening disease, those afflicted with it should be afforded the compassion any other suffering individual would receive. Boticelli is convinced the new glossary will address what he calls the nation’s number one public health problem.

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