Though addiction is a true mental health disorder—not a character flaw or a simple act of choice, as some might believe—there remains stigma surrounding it. Those who struggle with addiction are sometimes held responsible for things that are beyond their control, or expected to change their behavior without receiving the appropriate medical care. What’s more, the stigma surrounding addiction makes many individuals hesitant to admit to it, or to seek detox and recovery.

As such, one of the most effective things you can do to help those with addiction is to play your part in eliminating stigma which includes using language that is respectful and responsible.

Here are a few tips on doing that.

  • Avoid defining an individual according to his or her addiction. Generally speaking, we’d suggest not calling someone “an addict,” but rather “someone with addiction,” etc.
  • Avoid the careless use of words or phrases that relate to addiction. Calling yourself a “chocolate addict,” or saying you want to “binge watch” a new TV show, is perfectly innocent, but can still promote stigmatizing attitudes.
  • Avoid statements of blame when talking to someone with addiction. “You’ve done a lot to make me worried” carries judgment, while “I’m really worried about you” grounds the sentiment in your own emotions.

One final recommendation: If you have the opportunity to do so, try challenging misconceptions about addiction. Speak up when you hear other people using language that is callous or that promotes stigma.

It’s vital that we not only understand what addiction is (and what it isn’t), but that we display that understanding to those who are struggling. By combatting stigma, we can encourage those who need addiction treatment to seek it out—starting, of course, with complete detox.