Language of Recovery

Words are important. If you want to care for something, you call it a flower; if you want to kill something, you call it a weed.
~Don Coyhis

Language matters.

Language is the key to changing the way people with substance use disorders see themselves, and the way they are seen by others.

Current TerminologyAlternative Terminology
Treatment is the goal; Treatment is the only way into recoveryTreatment is an opportunity for initiation into recovery (one of multiple pathways into recovery).
Substance AbuseSubstance Use Disorder / Substance Misuse
Drug of Choice / AbuseDrug of Use
Relapse preventionRecovery management
Pathology Based AssessmentStrength / Asset Based Assessment
Focus is on total abstinence from all illicit and non-prescribed substances the CLINICIAN identifiesFocus on the drug CLIENT feels is creating the problems
A Drug is a Drug is a DrugEach illicit substance has unique interactions with the brain; medication if available is appropriate.
RelapseRecurrence / Return to Use
Relapse is part of recoveryRecurrence / Return to use may occur as part of the disease
Clean / SoberDrug Free / Free from illicit and non-prescribed medications
Self Help GroupMutual Aid Group
Untreated Addict / AlcoholicIndividual not yet in recovery

The most respectful way to refer to people is as people.

Clients / Patients / ConsumersThe people in our program The folks we work with The people we serveMore inclusive, less stigmatizing
Alex is an addictAlex is addicted to alcohol Alex is a person with a substance use disorder Alex is in recovery from drug addictionPut the person first Avoid defining the person by their disease

The terms listed below, along with others, are often people's ineffective attempts to reclaim some shred of power while being treated in a system that often tries to control them. The person is trying to get their needs met, or has a perception different from the staff, or has an opinion of self not shared by others, and these efforts are not effectively bringing them to the result they want.

Matthew is manipulativeMatthew is trying really hard to get his needs met Matthew may need to work on more effective ways of getting his needs metTake the blame out of the statement Recognize that the person is trying to get a need met the best way they know how
Kyle is non-compliantKyle is choosing not to... Kyle would rather... Kyle is looking for other optionsDescribe what it looks like uniquely to that individual - that information is more useful than a generalization
Mary is resistant to treatmentMary chooses not to... Mary prefers not to... Mary is unsure about...Avoid defining the person by the behavior Remove the blame from the statement
Jennifer is in denialJennifer is ambivalent about... Jennifer hasn't internalized the seriousness of... Jennifer doesn't understand...Remove the blame and the stigma from the statement

Signs & Symptoms

Signs & Symptoms

Learn how to identify signs of substance use.

Learn the Signs

Language of Recovery

Language of Recovery

The words you choose are important.

Learn the Language