The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) joins the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) in observing National Addictions Awareness Week (NAAW), November 12-18, 2017.
This annual, national awareness week highlights issues and solutions to help address alcohol and other drug-related harms. The theme for NAAW 2017 is “Words Matter”, focusing on how the use of stigmatizing language can perpetuate false and harmful myths around substance use and addiction, and act as a barrier to recovery.
Why “Words Matter” with substance use and addiction
- Words have a powerful impact on the way we see the world, and can perpetuate the stigma of substance use. The words we use can have a negative impact, even if we have no intention of causing harm.
- What is stigma? Stigma marks a person as different or damaged; it devalues and can dehumanize a person who has a substance use or other socially-discredited health disorder.
- Language can affect how the public thinks about substance use and recovery. Research demonstrates that the use of certain words and terminology can create biases that influence how society treats people and groups.
- Words can also have an impact on the individual who uses substances, impacting how people think about themselves, and about their ability to make changes in their lives, including whether or not to seek health care.
- While words can cause and perpetuate stigma, they also have the power to undo stigma. Using the “language of recovery” can inspire hope and promote recovery.
- The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction changed its name this year, eliminating the term “Substance Abuse”. This is an acknowledgement that words do, indeed, matter.
- Recognizing that words matter is sometimes disparagingly called “political correctness.” Those hurt by stigmatizing language are sometimes dismissed as “overly sensitive”. These terms ignore the power and the negative impact that words can have.