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Module 2: Changing Language to Change Care: Stigma and Substance Use Disorder
Language can be used intentionally or unintentionally to perpetuate stigma. The language used towards people who use drugs or alcohol and people with addiction includes many stigmatizing terms which have been shown to increase negative attitudes among the public and clinicians. Examples include words like “abuse,” “abuser,” “addict,” and “dirty.” There are also more subtle ways that language can be used to frame issues related to addiction or substance use which can enhance stigma. Nationally there has been growing awareness around the importance of language and the need to use medically appropriate, person first terminology. Changing our language is a crucial component of reducing stigma to improve the lives and health of people who use drugs or alcohol and people with addiction. This module will discuss the importance of language when discussing substance use and review ways to improve language to improve care.
Target Audience
Physicians, nurses, and healthcare teams who are treating patients with substance use disorder (SUD).
Sarah E. Wakeman, MD, FASAM | Massachusetts General Hospital; Harvard Medical School

At the conclusion of this activity participants should be able to:

  • Describe three examples of stigma in the way the medical system approaches substance use disorder
  • Explain the importance of using medically appropriate language for substance use disorder
  • Utilize effective terminology when discussing substance use disorder
Core Competencies as a result of participating in this activity:   
Interpersonal Skills and Communication
Medical Knowledge
Patient Care
Method of participation in the activity

In order to receive maximum credit, learners must: 

1. Review the materials provided in this module.
2. Earn a minimum cumulative score of 80% on the post-test. 
3. Complete an evaluation to assess satisfaction and plans for individual and/or team practice change.
4. Follow instructions at the end of the course regarding how to retrieve a certificate.* 

*Credit will not be awarded unless all components of the program are completed.  Partial credit will not be awarded.

Availability: Retired
Cost: FREE
Credit Offered:
No Credit Offered
The content on this site is intended solely to inform and educate medical professionals. This site shall not be used for medical advice and is not a substitute for the advice or treatment of a qualified medical professional.

Funding for this initiative was made possible (in part) by grant nos. 6H79TI081968 and 1H79TI083343 from SAMHSA. The views expressed in written conference materials or publications and by speakers and moderators do not necessarily reflect the official policies of the Department of Health and Human Services; nor does mention of trade names, commercial practices, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

For Buprenorphine Training Inquiries, email PCSS.


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