Don’t call people ‘addicts,’ Penn researchers say

Published by WHYY

Joel Wolfram

Addiction researchers at the University of Pennsylvania say it’s time to stop using “addict” and “alcoholic” when talking about people with substance use disorders. The recommendation comes out of a new study that found the terms are associated with a strong negative bias.

Researchers studied how people responded to several addiction-related terms including “addict,” “alcoholic,” and “substance abuser.” Those terms elicited the strongest negative biases of the lot, said lead study author Robert D. Ashford.

“Terms that seem to label the person — and invoke the negative attitudes toward the person rather than the disease — those are the ones that have the higher levels of bias,” said Ashford, a research assistant at the University of Pennsylvania and doctoral candidate in health policy at the University of the Sciences.

Participants were asked questions about their willingness to associate with people depicted in fictional vignettes who were described with such terms. But the study also used a word-association task to test whether any “implicit bias” was lurking in the language.

“So ‘implicit’ is … think of ‘subconscious,’ what’s going on in the recesses of my mind that I may not be consciously aware of,” Ashford explained.

 

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