Office of National Drug Control Policy

Changing the Language of Addiction: Announcement for Public Comment

October 4, 2016

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) in the Executive Office of the President is issuing for public comment a draft of Changing the Language of Addiction, a document addressing ways non-stigmatizing terminology can be used when discussing substance use and substance use disorders.  Prepared in consultation with experts in the field of substance use, this guidance addresses the role stigma plays in preventing people from seeking and receiving quality care, identifies scientific and medical literature demonstrating how certain terminology adversely affects the quality of health care and treatment outcomes for individuals with substance use disorders, and promotes the use of person-first language and new terminology that aligns with the current edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed., American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

Executive Branch agencies will be encouraged to consider the importance of language and the terminology discussed in the guidance in their internal and public facing communications. The document is not a Federal regulation and is not intended to change the statutory or regulatory definitions of terms or change any substantive or procedural rights under Federal law, to include the names of Federal agencies. 

Substance use disorder (the severest form of which is commonly referred to as addiction), is a chronic brain disorder from which people can and do recover. Despite an increase in the understanding of the science of substance use disorders and their effect on the brain, research shows that people with substance use disorders are viewed more negatively than others.  When certain terms are used, such as “abuser” instead of “individual with a substance use disorder,” health care providers are more likely to assign blame and believe that an individual should be subjected to more punitive (e.g., jail sentence) rather than therapeutic measures.  Negative attitudes have been found to adversely affect the quality of health care and treatment outcomes.  Because stigma and shame may deter help-seeking behavior among individuals with substance use disorders and their families, the guidance draws attention to terminology that may cause confusion or perpetuate stigma. 

Specifically, we seek comment from stakeholders on the scope and depth of the guidance.  We are especially interested in comments that address recent medical and scientific research or otherwise discuss the medical terminology used for other health care conditions.  Where possible, please cite to the research or medical standard being referenced.

The draft document can be found here: To submit comments, please send an email to Comments will be accepted until 5 p.m. Eastern Time on November 4, 2016.  For further information, contact the Office of National Drug Control Policy at