The fact that language reinforces stereotypes is particularly problematic for individuals with substance use disorder because even clinical labels can have stigmatizing effects that might bias patients, caregivers, and policy makers. Recently, the American Psychiatric Association switched from referring to individuals as “substance abusers” to “substance users” in the hopes that changing professional dialogue will reduce stigma; however, the effects of this revision have not been measured. This research measures the impact of potentially stigmatizing clinical and colloquial terms for persons with substance use disorder.
Participants read a short story in which the subject of the story is described as either “having opiate use disorder,” “a heroin addict,” or “a heroin junkie.” They then complete a questionnaire that measures their awareness of the story’s content and potential biases, the degree of association they have between the subject of the story and negative stereotypes, and their general attitudes about addiction.
Based on prior research on the effects of language on the priming of stereotypes, I hypothesize that the language used to describe the subject of the story will influence the participant’s perception of the subject’s criminality, education level, and other criteria. This research is ongoing. In an era of addiction and overdose epidemics, the language we use could be critical to successfully shifting policy in a direction that humanizes individuals and the struggle of substance use disorder recovery.
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23 March 2018
- Date submitted
19 July 2022
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Dr. Troy Smith