by Taylor Cairns
PORTLAND (WGME) — Maine’s public health crisis of opioid use is well documented. In 2017, Maine saw more than 400 people die from drug-induced deaths.
Some recovery service experts in Portland say they’re hoping to change the way people see addiction by changing how people talk about it.
“Language is really powerful,” Kelli Fox said, an assistant clinical professor at the University of New England. “How we approach someone, and the kind of messages we send, can impact how someone feels.”
She says that simple switches like saying “substance use disorder” instead of “addict” can influence whether or not a person would continue treatment.
“When you use words like junkie, or people being clean or not clean… it can dehumanize them,” she said. “It can be dismissive of how hard it is for someone to be in recovery.”
At the Portland Recovery Community Center, the majority of the employees are in long term recovery.
The executive director, Leslie Clark, says that the workers there know how traumatizing words can be.
“It can make someone feel accepted and open to recovery or it can make people fearful,” Clark said. “On average, 23 million Americans are in recovery… I think that means that pretty much everyone knows someone who is struggling with their own addiction.”
Fox says that it comes down to the basic idea that everyone wants to be treated with respect.
“Why would somebody want to be somewhere or with someone who continues to perpetuate their own sense of low self-esteem or low self-worth?” she said. “A harm reduction model seems to be a much more effective type of treatment.”
She says it’s also about separating the “illness” from the “person”.
“When we talk about things like someone being an addict, it makes it sound like that’s all they are,” she said. “People are way more than just that.”
If you or someone you know is currently struggling with an addiction, find the right state number to call here.
To see the words and phrases recovery workers would like you to know and avoid, scroll below:
Words to avoid:
- Clean Drug Screen
- Dirty Drug Screen
- Drug Abuse
- Former/Reformed Addict/Alcoholic
- Habit or Drug Habit
- Methadone Maintenance, Opioid Replacement Therapy
Words to use:
- Person with a substance use disorder
- Person experiencing an alcohol/drug problem
- Person in active addiction
- Person with alcohol use disorder
- Testing negative for substance use
- Actively using
- Testing positive for substance use
- Misuse, harmful use, problem use, risky use
- Not actively using
- Person in recovery, person in long-term recovery
- Substance use disorder, alcohol and drug disease, active addiction
- Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
- Person who uses drugs/alcohol
This article appears on WGME-TV.