I have always been a person who needs to work harder than most at using the right language when speaking or writing. It does not come naturally. Despite my good intentions, I seem to do poorly with what is politically correct, and so have learned to listen better.

I remember wanting to hide my personal recovery experience when I wanted to be known for my talents and abilities, and not by my diagnosis or be labeled as an “abuser.” I have always wondered why we say addicts are not “clean,” and why we discredit people who relapse, as if it was the person’s “fault”. I have come to appreciate why talking publicly about my recovery with the right language matters, especially when it comes to addressing social exclusion and discrimination. Currently, I say discrimination instead of stigma, and appreciate the impact of language when training, presenting, and writing.

A new science for re-understanding and addressing America’s problem with illicit substance use and addiction has arrived. We now know that addiction is a chronic medical illness that if properly treated, can have good outcomes. Within this illness understanding, recovery and self-management have become the new outcomes, just like other chronic illnesses. This shift in language is finally changing insurance limits, criminal justice sentences, and other societal consequences. It is more important than ever for us to rethink the language we have been using when we talk about substance use disorders and addiction.

It will not come easy, but it matters.