Social stigma related to substance use can be a significant barrier to accessing treatment. Despite government institutions, psychological associations, and public advocacy groups promoting person-first language to decrease stigmatization, no prior study has investigated how those with a substance use disorder (SUD) respond to language used by mental health clinicians. The purpose of this study was to examine the experience of treatment language for persons seeking recovery from an SUD. An interpretative phenomenological analysis was used to analyze semi-structured interviews conducted with individuals who had recently received SUD treatment. The results indicated that language reception was highly dependent on five contextual factors: expertise of treatment professionals, relatability, readiness to change, awareness of the problem, and body language. Findings suggested that as participants identified peers or clinicians they could trust, language that had previously felt stigmatizing became informed with new and supportive meaning. In addition, the results indicated that participants responded to dichotomous language differently at various stages of recovery. The authors recommend that treatment professionals not only reflect on word choice to eliminate stigma and shame in treatment settings but also examine the contextual factors that may impact language reception.
- substance use
- substance use disorder