Language Matters for those with Substance Use Disorders

Recent staff training by Granite United Way

Press Release
Franklin VNA & Hospice staff were recently trained by Annika Stanley-Smith, Director of Substance Misuse Prevention with Granite United Way. Also pictured are various Franklin VNA & Hospice staff who attended this training session.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse lists New Hampshire among the top five states with the highest rate of opioid-involved deaths, 424 in 2017 alone. Yet substance misuse can occur with opioids, alcohol, stimulants, and a whole host of other substances.

That’s why this past month, a dedicated group of Franklin VNA & Hospice employees gathered together to learn about addiction, not just the ins and outs of opioid reversal drugs and how to recognize if someone might need them, but also the language of addiction and recovery. 

The way we speak about addiction impacts the way a person with substance use disorder, or a person who cares about someone with substance use disorder, communicates with us. This can be the difference between someone asking for help or staying silent, and it’s a much more likely scenario for us to encounter than needing to give someone Narcan.

Annika Stanley-Smith, Director of Substance Misuse Prevention with Granite United Way, was on hand to present a compelling talk on exactly this topic. “Referring to someone as a junkie, considering medication that helps with recovery a crutch, and the clean vs. dirty terminology that even well-meaning people use can stigmatize the illness of addiction.” Stanley-Smith says.

Instead, we should recognize that people living with substance use disorder can be helped by medications as a treatment tool to help them begin to live in recovery. Stanley-Smith likens this to, “A person with diabetes who needs insulin to help control their blood sugar.”

The National Council for Behavioral Health even has a clear handout that begins by noting, “Stigmatizing language perpetuates negative perceptions. Person first language focuses on the person, not the disorder.” And this notion of focusing on the whole person is true for all of us. Just as having diabetes or being a parent may be a part of who we are, it isn’t the whole. 

Tabitha Dowd, Executive Director for Franklin VNA & Hospice, says, “The consequences of substance use cause much suffering and are major public health and economic problems. Data 

indicates that substance-related consequences introduce systematic bias and degrade the validity of caring throughout the systems. Using language that takes away the stigma of substance misuse can allow a person with substance use disorder to ask for help. Those are the invaluable opportunities we can create with our words and our behavior. Each of our patients and community members is a whole person. Our services support that, and we need to ensure that our language when discussing substance use disorder, supports that as well. “