Pediatricians call for an end to language that stigmatizes or blames patients for addiction, which is a medical disorder.
The American Academy of Pediatrics in a new policy statement aims to end the use of harmful and stigmatizing language that has been used to portray substance use disorders by advocating for the use of medically accurate, person-first terminology.
The policy statement, “Recommended Terminology for Substance Use Disorders in the Care of Children, Adolescents, Young Adults, and Families,” provides suggested language for pediatricians, media, policy makers, governmental agencies and AAP peer-reviewed publications.
The statement, published in the June 2022 Pediatrics (published online May 23), reviews how substance use historically has historically been viewed as a moral failing in which individuals are blamed for their medical condition.
“Research has shown us that addiction is a chronic illness that can recur just like many other medical conditions,” said Rachel H. Alinsky, MD, MPH, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement, which was written in conjunction with the AAP Committee on Substance Use and Prevention.
“When society uses derogatory terms such as ‘substance abuse’ and ‘drug abuser,’ it creates perceptions that people with substance use disorders do not deserve help or treatment. Instead of labeling people with these terms, we should be first recognizing the individual as a person and using medically accurate language such as ‘a person with a substance use disorder.”
The policy statement contains a summary of problematic language to be avoided, paired with the recommended appropriate language and an explanation.
.The policy statement also notes that many of the common pejorative words used to describe people with substance use disorder have racist connotations.
“Pediatricians know the power of words and are in an excellent position as role models, clinicians, and researchers to replace harmful language with terms that respect the dignity of people who have substance use disorders,” Dr. Alinsky said.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.