If we simply change some language, we can change the conversation about addiction and recovery…



Person with a substance use disorder

Person with a serious substance use disorder

addicted to x

Has an X use disorder 

Has a serious X use disorder

Has a substance use disorder involving X (if more than one substance is involved) 


Substance use disorder 

Serious substance use disorder


  • "Addiction" is appropriate when quoting findings or research that used the term or if it appears in a proper name of an organization.
  • "Addiction" is appropriate when speaking of the disease process that leads to someone developing a substance use disorder that includes compulsive use (for example. "the field of addiction medicine.· and "the science of addiction").
  • It is appropriate to refer to scheduled drugs as "addictive."

Person with an alcohol use disorder

Person with a serious alcohol use disorder



When using these terms, take care to avoid divulging an individual's participation in a named 12-step program.

Alcoholics Anonymous

Narcotics Anonymous etc. 



Testing negative for substance use

Clean Screen

Actively using
Positive for substance use


Testing positive for substance use

Dirty Screen

Substance use disorder

Compulsive or regular substance use

Drug habit

Person who uses drugs (if not qualified as a disorder)


When feasible, "Drug/Substance Abuse" can be replaced with "Substance Use Disorder." 

Substance Abuser

Person in recovery
Person in long-term recovery

Former/reformed Addict/Alcoholic

Medication assisted treatment

Medication-assisted recovery

Opioid Replacement or Methadone Maintenance

People who use drugs for non-medical reasons

People starting to use drugs

People who are new to drug use


Recreational, Casual, or Experimental Users

(as opposed to those with a use disorder) 

Source: The Huffington Post / White House Office of National Drug Control Policy