Not Just Words – AAI aims to tackle stigma with new language guide during ‘recovery month’ 

Stigmatising language such as ‘user’, ‘addict’ and ‘alcoholic’ are outdated and damaging and should no longer be used to describe people who have problems with alcohol and other substances. 

To mark International Recovery Month, Alcohol Action Ireland, the national independent advocate for reducing alcohol harm, is today (22 Sept)

launching a guide to help media and the public use more compassionate language, and to understand the impact certain words can have on people. 

Research has demonstrated that, whether we are aware of it or not, the use of certain terms generates biases that can influence the formation and effectiveness of social and public health policies to address alcohol and other drug problems.  

The use of slang and negative language in media commentary reflects the wider public’s stigmas and views associated with dependency and further harms an already vulnerable group of people. 

Research shows that using the right words has the power to improve health outcomes, reduce stigma and make people who use or have used alcohol and other drugs feel safe respected and more willing to engage with the services they need. 

Alcohol Action Ireland CEO Dr Sheila Gilheany said: 

“Just as we have adapted our language in terms of talking about people with disabilities and in reporting around mental health, when it comes to problem alcohol use we need to be mindful that we don’t further harm an already stigmatised group. This guide gives people the correct terminologies to use. We are confident that once people understand the very real-world impacts of stigma and that it’s not ‘just words’, they will be more open to changing their vocabulary – just as people have in the realm of disabilities and mental health.”  

Prof Jo-Hanna Ivers, School of Medicine, Trinity College Dublin, who developed the guide with AAI, said: 

“The terms we use when referring to substance use disorders (addiction to alcohol/substances) may directly impact the probability that individuals will seek help and, in some instances, the quality of the service that they receive. Scientifically we know that stigmatising attitudes toward people with substance use disorder can contribute to numerous adverse health outcomes. The words we choose can significantly affect people’s thoughts and opinions, therefore, intentionally or unintentionally perpetuating harmful stereotypes and beliefs. We can all play our part by being more mindful of our words.” 




Notes to editor:  

The language & media guide are available here. 

AAI has also today published a blog with further information pointing to the strong research base that underpins this initiative: /language-stigma/

International Recovery Month (Recovery Month), which started in 1989, is an observance held every September to promote and support new evidence-based treatment and recovery practices, the strong and proud recovery community, and the dedication of service providers and communities who make recovery in all its forms possible.