Putting the person first when describing someone with a disability or disease can positively influence the images and impressions we form about them. When it comes to our use of language in combatting addiction-related stigma, person-first language is critical in fostering an environment of dignity, mutual respect, positivity, and hope. Read on to discover four benefits of using person-first language.
#1. Reducing Stigma and Discrimination
A foundational belief of person-first language use is that individuals are more than their mental or physical health diagnosis. Traditionally, our language tends to identify someone with their diagnosis or disability as a description. This is not only an inaccurate representation of people’s identity but a root cause for many forms of stereotypes and stigma.
For example, when referring to someone, instead of calling them “a cognitively disabled person,” it is better to say “a person with a cognitive disability.” Their disability is only a fragment of this person’s life, not the thing that defines it. This corrected use of language is necessary because language matters in shaping our perception.
Person-first language acknowledges the person before introducing their disorder or condition. Doing the contrary often leads to disrespect, embarrassment, and harm to one’s self-esteem. Stigma and discrimination are allowed to linger because the media has failed in their understanding of these language dynamics. Using identity-first language perpetuates stigma related to a particular health condition.
#2. A Remedy for Deeper Causes of Addiction
When it comes to substance use disorder (SUD), a variety of social, cultural, and economic factors are at work. Society-wide stigma may be partly responsible for people’s choices. For example, stigma remains the biggest barrier to treatment for people with SUD.
Common stigmatizing words include “addict,” “abuser,” “alcoholic,” etc. Labeling people with these terms may devalue them as individuals and exclude an entire group from society. These terms become social barriers that deter individuals from full community inclusion, leading to more and worsened stress-related diseases.
Person-first language solicits empathy. For example, instead of describing someone as a “drug addict,” using a phrase like “someone who suffers from substance addiction” is a way to show empathy and solidarity. This principle goes beyond just the general population; it is also important for this way of referring to people to be adopted in medical communities for better patient care and outcomes.
#3. Prioritizing Personhood
Recovery is a journey of self-discovery. From the start, using person-first language helps reinforce a positive outlook. Identity-first language tends to strengthen negative labels placed on people, adding more confusion, stress, and stigma to people’s self-identity.
Preserving personhood is important because it allows for liberation and inner peace. Recovery is a chance to explore who one is when one can put their health conditions aside. When seeking healing, people need to connect with their inner selves, which are rich and beautiful and cannot be defined by narrow stereotypes.
Person-first language helps elevate one’s sense of self. When people are not identified primarily by conditions they have no control over, they regain a sense of authority over who they are. This is important in the field of healthcare as well as in education. Person-first language is a way to avoid separating people or groups based on their condition. It is a key ingredient in creating an inclusive environment for growth.
#4. Raising Awareness About Societal Stigma
Many scholarly journals mandate person-first language, though this is not always practiced by all health professionals, educators, and employers. Campaigns for adopting person-first language are the first step toward building recovery-supportive families, communities, schools, and workplaces.
When family members, educators, health professionals, and employers do not use person-first language, they may set up a barrier between the person and the support that is needed for their well-being. This barrier hinders treatment and recovery. Recovering individuals themselves need to advocate for the use of person-first language. For too long, identity-first language has created society-wide harm and stigma.
Practical Advice for Action
If you are concerned about the use of language when caring for a loved one going through addiction recovery, there are many ways you can act. First of all, become more conscious of your own use of language. Secondly, identify common ways the media or your own circles use identity-first language and refrain from using them. Where possible and appropriate, call people out and educate them on a better way. If you are in a situation where you are unsure about what language is appropriate, simply ask.
Always practice seeing the person first, not the illness or disorder. Know that every person is much more than the challenges they face. Explain this to your family members and friends so that they also understand the importance of person-first language.
There are many stereotypes and inappropriate labels used in the media about substance use. Social stigma is harmful to people who need help. Large-scale change starts when we are careful about our use of language. If you or someone you love struggles with addiction, tell your story to others. You can encourage and give power to people with SUD in small ways, sometimes simply by using person-first language. At Laguna Shores Recovery, we have experienced mental health professionals who can coach you or your loved ones through recovering from addiction while combatting stigma. You need compassionate experts who help you with how to navigate the field of addiction and recovery. Schedule an appointment with us today to discover how we can help you. Call us at (954) 329-1118. We will be your strongest support in this journey.
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