substance use disorder

‘Substance Use Disorder’ is official term in Maine

substance use disorder

Many others words used to describe those with substance use disorder carry high stigma with them.

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On May 1, a new law in Maine took effect that makes “substance use disorder” the official term for addiction and drug related behaviors. This is an important milestone for advocates, who have worked to integrate destigmatizing language about substance use disorder into public policy, media, and mainstream use.

According to Maine Publicthe law removes references to terms such as “alcohol and drug abuse” and replaces them with “substance use disorder.” Rather than saying alcoholic or drug addict, someone will be described as a “person with substance use disorder.”

The law cost nothing to implement. The legislation was the result of a change recommended by a task force, which suggested Maine’s government, laws, and rules reflect more progressive attitudes toward addiction. By using inclusive, accurate language, Maine shows its commitment to addressing substance use disorder as a chronic disease.

Katie Fullam Harris, a senior vice president of government relations at Maine Health, which testified in favor of the bill, told Maine Public, “The other recommendations made by the task force — and there were a number of recommendations — represented the need for treatment, the need for prevention services, and several of those remain on the Legislature’s docket as unfinished business at this point in time.”

Harris pointed out that the stigma attached to addiction and people with substance use disorder is pervasive throughout the medical industry, as well as society as a whole. She said, “When we start to change the language that we use we start to make it OK to talk about, to think about substance use disorder differently, about it as being part of a regimen of health care diagnoses that are among many diagnoses that can be effectively treated. We’ve talked about this in the behavioral health field, around mental illness, around substance use disorder services for many years, and we know that it truly makes a difference when you start to talk about it differently.”

The term “substance use disorder” is now commonly used to describe addiction. Instead of outdated words, which are sometimes used as slurs, we now use “person with substance use disorder.” It’s not just a matter of compassion or political correctness: it’s also more accurate. For exampleDiagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), no longer uses the terms substance abuse and substance dependence, rather it refers to substance use disorders. “Alcoholism” is now referred to as “alcohol use disorder,” and “heroin addiction” is “opioid use disorder.”

Using language that accurately describes substance use disorder is directly linked to better outcomes for people. It avoids a moralistic attitude. A 2013 article published by the National Institute of Health pointed out, “‘Abuse’ is a term anchored in our collective minds in association with behavior such as rape, domestic violence, and child molestation. To use such a term to refer to a chronic, treatable brain disease ignores decades of scientific research indicating the role of genetics, trauma, and exposure in the neurobiology of the illness.”

Maine’s change for the better is a great example of how state and local governments can acknowledge substance use disorder as an illness, not a moral failing, and help Americans get access to the care they need.

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