Supporting Treatment and Recovery Through Language

 In Drug Testing

Reflecting the pervasiveness of drugs in the news, the Associated Press has updated its official stylebook with new guidelines on the usage of many terms related to drugs and addiction. Updates include clarification of the distinctions between opioid and opiate, addiction and dependence, and prescribed and prescription.

The update includes an extensive discussion of the term addiction and the new understanding of addiction as a disease that changes a person’s brain and frequently causes compulsive behavior. The term dependence, on the other hand, should be used to refer to cases where a disease or disorder may not be the cause of the behavior, such as cancer patients who take painkillers as part of their prescribed treatment. The stylebook also favors using terms like harmful use or misuse over abuse or problem.

Much of this update incorporates recommendations made by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which published a memo on Nov. 3, 2016, stating the effect of shame in creating barriers to treatment and recovery. Acknowledging the power of words to both reflect and create perception, both this memo and the International Society of Addiction Journal Editors encourage the use of neutral, clinical language to support help-seeking behavior. Studies reviewed by the ONDCP show evidence of clinician prejudice when stigmatizing language is used.

The stylebook clarifies that the term drugs does not shed light on the legality of the compound and can refer to medicine as well as illicit street compounds. The stylebook describes many street drugs and clarifies in what context the names should be used, such as crack vs. cocaine. It also discusses which compulsive behaviors meet the clinical definition of addiction and which do not.

To view more about the ONDCP policy, click here.


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