Say This Not That: The Language of Recovery

Updated: Apr 10, 2020

The words we use to discuss recovery, even within the recovery community, can be a barrier to seeking treatment and subsequently contribute to overdose.

Even those words that have historically been used within the recovery community can discourage someone with a substance use disorder from seeking treatment. When attempting to reduce the stigma related to recovery, one thing we can do is to use "people first language." For example instead of referring to someone as an "addict", we may instead say"a person with a substance use disorder."


We may be inadvertently passing judgement on people even without intending to by the labels we use to describe others.

Here is a list of words we can learn to reevaluate the language of recovery


Commonly used words: Replace with:

Addict Person with Substance Use Disorder

Drug Abuse Drug Misuse or Harmful Use

Clean Abstinent or not actively using

Dirty Actively Using

Relapse Recurrence of Symptoms




For a full listing of words visit, addictionary.org


Click the links below for more information on:

Recovery Resources

Recovery Toolkit



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Funding provided to the Kenneth Young Center by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS), the Illinois Public Health Association, the Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago, the Alliance to End Homelessness in Suburban Cook County, and Schaumburg Township.