The language used in your opiate drug addiction treatment program should make you feel accepted and empowered. It is very difficult to admit that you need treatment for opiate drug addiction for many reasons, and the language and culture of the treatment program can help ease that difficulty and stigma you might be feeling.

You’re giving up a habit that at one time fulfilled a physical need, and an emotional need on some level. When you make the terrifying decision to quit, you don’t want to find that the chatter all around you about opiate drug addiction makes you feel like you’re in a very negative spotlight. People can often behave as if you chose to have a substance use disorder, as if you consciously chose to go down that road. Their language de-personalizes you and makes it difficult for you to immerse yourself into a recovery culture.

Defining the Language of Opiate Drug Addiction

For starters: When you go to a treatment program for opiate drug addiction, will you be a patient or a client? Even worse, what if they actually call you an addict?

The truth is that in today’s culture surrounding opiate drug addiction treatment, the doctors and the counselors all respect that what you are battling is a medical disorder. Opiate drug addiction is not a lack of willpower or a path you purposely chose. Most program’s policies and treatment plans are specifically geared to put your medical and psychological needs first and foremost within the laws established to ensure the safety of such programs. You are the one choosing to get treatment, which makes you the client, the customer, the one who has options about where to seek help.

In fact, many treatment programs won’t even hire potential job applicants who use the wrong terminology. At one location, when a potential hire was asked to take a pre-employment drug screen, she stated that she was not a druggie. For that reason alone, she did not get the job.

Most places prefer to utilize person-first terminology. For example, you would never be called an addicted person. If it were necessary to describe you as having an addiction, the proper phrase would be a person with a substance use disorder.

Addiction, Abuse, or What?

We just used the phrase substance use disorder. There is a Diagnostic Manual that treatment providers use, and in the past it contained the criteria so that they could adequately describe their clients as having an addiction or an abuse disorder. The current Diagnostic Manual (number five) categorizes this medical diagnosis as substance use disorder. There are other qualifiers, but they would describe, for example, whether you are in remission. It can be difficult for those who have been in the industry for many years to get used to the changes in terminology, and remove words like abuse and addiction from their vocabulary, but the effort is made every day to grow and change with the industry, and to always show the utmost respect and caring to patients.

It’s Not Laundry Day

What about the drug screening process? You should not be defined as clean or dirty. Unfortunately, the proper terminology is a little slower in arriving at today’s opiate treatment centers, but people are working on it. Urinary drug screens are required by law, and are also a way to mark progress in treatment. However, it is never acceptable to say that someone’s urinalysis is dirty, and slang terminology for providing the urine sample should also be avoided. Many counselors today will say that their clients did or did not render, and they will use the words positive or negative. Positive is bad news for you, negative means yay, you’re working your program.

No More Stigma

According to Matt Ferner, writing for, the wrong language can be the very thing that keeps you from reaching out for the assistance you need. It goes beyond any need to be politically correct. The real reason for using the correct language about opiate drug addiction is the need to wrap the new client in the language of acceptance that should be found at each and every opiate treatment program. There is no judging. There is no punishment.

Ferner’s work is based in part on a research paper published by the American Journal of Medicine. It’s no longer about the so-called War on Drugs. People are no longer saying, You Use You Lose. Those are the types of phrases that bolster the old stigmas against persons with substance use disorders and make it more difficult to come forward for help.

So hold your head high and straighten your shoulders when you make the decision to change your life. Help is available, and the people at your neighborhood opiate treatment programs respect what a difficult journey you have decided to embark upon. The only thing preventing you from obtaining the help that you need is your hesitation in making that first phone call. Why not make it now?