We reject the language that keeps millions of Americans from seeking help for addiction.

This damaging language fuels the stigma, shame and fear that keep 90 percent of those who need care from getting help. In keeping with our commitment to quality and data, we use language that is person-centered, non-stigmatizing and consistent with the language of science.

We will meet those who need help however we can. In other words, we will adjust to reach those who suffer from addiction. You may even see some of this “poisoned language” in our materials or website. Believe us, it isn't done without purpose and discussion. It’s done because we have a steadfast commitment to reach those who must be reached.

We're also firm believers in the power of stories and encouraging those who choose to tell theirs. We understand that some of these words may be important to emphasize a point or relay how someone felt during their addiction journey.

Words we don't like

  • Abuse(r) – This word fails the tests for many reasons: it blames addiction on the individual, it validates criminalization as a solution to addiction and it contributes to the stigma experienced not only by those with addiction but also family members.
  • Addict – This word fails the tests largely because it is not person-centered. It also carries its own fair share of baggage.
  • Any slang references to people (e.g., alcoholic, junkie, doper, drunk) – These words fail for what we think are clear reasons. Despite the fact that many choose to apply such labels to themselves or others (perhaps as badges of honor) doesn’t change their hurtful nature.
  • Clean/dirty/sober – These words are of no medical or scientific use. They are focused only on drug use and increase society’s stigma around addiction.
  • Codependency – This is a term that's widely used in society but has no one true scientific definition. Codependency shames and blames loved ones of those with addiction.
  • Enabler – Loved ones of those with addiction fear this label, and it usually does more harm than good. In reality, both healthy and unhealthy forms of enabling exist. We need to stop blaming loved ones who are just doing their best to help. 
  • Habit – When used to describe the behavior of a person with addiction, this word ignores science and minimizes its challenges.
  • Rehab – The images behind rehab are largely due to the following:  
    • An endless parade of celebrities in and out of “rehab.”
    • Reality TV’s glamorization of “rehab.”
    • Society’s lack of trust in “rehab.”
  • Relapse – As with others on this list, relapse focuses solely on the substance. We prefer to use "recurrence of symptoms" when possible, but not at the expense of understanding.
  • Substance use disorder – We prefer addiction over substance use disorder. The latter focuses on drug use only, which is only one symptom of addiction.
  • Tough love – Science and experience tell us tough love doesn't work. We need to stop using telling loved ones to cut the person with addiction out of their lives. Instead, let's focus on compassionate, caring methods that have been proven more effective.

Words we like


  • Addiction – Everything we are and do is focused on addiction as defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. It is not a moral failing.
  • Addiction management – People with chronic conditions manage them every day.
  • People-centered words – We embrace people-centered descriptions of people and families who are struggling, those who are being treated and those who achieve wellness.
  • Recurrence – The return of addictive behaviors.
  • Remission – A state during which the symptoms of addiction have cleared.
  • Wellness – Wellness can mean something a little different to everyone. It includes physical, mental and spiritual well-being.