Language Matters: National Addictions Awareness Week

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November 22 to 28 is National Addictions Awareness Week (NAAW). This year’s campaign, Change Begins with Me, focuses on ending the stigma surrounding substance use and encouraging everyone to be a part of stigma reduction.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), substance use, and stigma are all inherently connected, particularly for individuals with FASD and women who use substances during pregnancy.

Stigma can impact people who use substances during pregnancy’s ability to discuss substance use with health care practitioners or service providers out of fear of judgment or shame, which can impact their ability to access supports and services necessary for a healthy pregnancy. Women may also internalize this stigma and shame, which can lead to poorer mental and physical health outcomes.

People with FASD who use substances also experience stigma. For people with FASD, the stigma surrounding substance use can intersect with the stigma surrounding this disability and compound feelings of shame and guilt.

Stigma surrounding substance use is counterproductive to the health and wellbeing of those who use substances. Stigma is one of the biggest barriers to health and one of the biggest drivers of health inequities. We all play an important role in challenging stigma and stereotypes.

One way we can contribute to Change Begins with Me, is by shifting our language to be person-first, strengths, based, and evidence-informed.

Use: Alcohol or substance use

Avoid: Alcohol or substance abuse

*Abuse has negative connotations and places blame and guilt on the individual

Use: Person who uses substances

Avoid: Addict or alcoholic

*Person-first language centers the individual in the conversation rather than placing a focus on the substance use

Use: Confirmed substance use

Avoid: Admitted to substance use

*Confession implies that they did something wrong while “confirmed” is a more neutral term

Use: It is safest not to drink during pregnancy

Avoid: “Just one drink can cause FASD”

*There is no clinical evidence that tells us how much alcohol is harmful during pregnancy. We want to make sure our information is evidence-based and doesn’t spread fear.

Use: FASD is caused by prenatal alcohol exposure

Avoid: FASD is caused by maternal alcohol use

*Allows us to move away from placing shame and blame on mothers

To learn more, check out our language matters resources on our website. Join the conversation on social media using the hashtags #ChangeBeginsWithMe and #NAAW.

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