Oklahoma has some of the highest rates for Substance Use Disorders.

Whether it’s you, a family member, a friend, or someone in the community looking to stop using substances, educating yourself is a great first step. You’re in the right place.



Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences. It is considered a brain disorder, because it involves functional changes to brain circuits involved in reward, stress, and self-control. It is like other diseases, such as heart disease. Both disrupt the normal, healthy functioning of an organ in the body, both have serious harmful effects, and both are, in many cases, preventable and treatable. If left untreated, they can last a lifetime and may lead to death.

What Many Don’t Know About Stigma

Substance Use Disorder is not a moral issue. It is a chronic, treatable disease that individuals can recover from and go on to live healthy lives. Despite what we know is true, studies show people still face discrimination and stigma that can impact their health and well-being in numerous ways.

Many people do not know that a substance use disorder is the result of changes in the brain that can lead to compulsive use and an inability to stop despite negative effects. Advances in our understanding of the disease, including the use of brain imaging studies, have led to this understanding. These changes, however, are not necessarily permanent. These same studies have also helped identify new treatment modalities that further our ability to successfully address the disease. People can and do recover, especially when they access the right care to do so.

How does stigma affect people with Substance Use Disorder?

Stigma can be extremely harmful to individuals with SUD. Feeling stigmatized can not only reduce willingness to seek treatment and cause relationship problems but also negatively influence health care providers’ perceptions when treating someone with SUD, impacting the level of care that person receives.

How can we change stigmatizing behaviors?

Every person in our society can play a role in reducing stigma and discrimination against people with substance use disorders—from health professionals and addiction researchers to the general public and those directly affected by drug and alcohol problems.

Encourage and Support Medical Education

The medical community can also better train health professionals on how to treat patients with substance use disorders. This begins with ensuring clinicians approach these disorders as treatable, chronic health conditions and use appropriate language The NIDAMED website includes evidence-based screening tools, treatment resources, and continuing education for providers and providers-in-training.

Replace stigmatizing language.

An important step toward eliminating stigma is replacing stigmatizing language with preferred, empowering language that doesn’t equate people with their condition or have negative connotations. However, people experiencing substance use disorders or in recovery may choose to describe themselves and their own disorder with terms that work best for them, especially in certain contexts such as recovery support groups. NIDA has developed Words Matter: Preferred Language for Talking About Addiction, a guide for the general public on non-stigmatizing language.

Address systemic discrimination.

When we see it, address it. Stigma impacts all aspects of the treatment system. There are many different organizations working on a state and national level to promote evidence-based care, support meaningful policy change, address gaps in care and even tackle insurance discrimination that limits services. Let your elected officials know that this is an important issue for you and your family. Learn more about the issues and partner with advocacy groups seeking change. Find a way to utilize your voice and make a difference.

Understand substance use disorders as chronic, treatable medical conditions.

To eliminate the stigma surrounding substance use disorders, we need to see these disorders for what they are: chronic, treatable medical conditions. People with substance use disorders deserve compassion and respect—not blame for their illness. Learn more about substance use disorders.

Terms to Avoid

Person-first Language.

The change shows that a person “has” a problem, rather than “is” the problem.
The terms avoid eliciting negative associations, punitive attitudes, and individual blame.

Instead of…



Person with substance use disorder

Substance or drug abuser



Person in active use; use the person’s name, and then say “is in active use.”


Substance use disorder


“Habit” inaccurately implies that a person is choosing to use substances or can choose to stop.

“Habit” may undermine the seriousness of the disease.


Person with OUD or person with opioid addiction (when substance in use is opioids)


Person with alcohol use disorder


For toxicology screen results:

  • Testing positive

For non-toxicology purposes:

  • Person who uses drugs


Use clinically accurate, non-stigmatizing terminology the same way it would be use for other medical conditions.

May decrease patients sense of hope and self-efficacy for change.


For toxicology screen results:

  • Testing negative

For non-toxicology purposes:

  • Being in remission or recovery
  • Abstinent from drugs
  • Not drinking or taking drugs
  • Not currently or actively using drugs


Use clinically accurate, non-stigmatizing terminology the same way it would be used for other medical conditions.

Set an example with your own language when treating patients who might use stigmatizing slang.

Use of such terms may evoke negative and punitive implicit cognitions.