The 2017 edition of the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook, which serves as the highest authority for many journalists, changed the way that it refers to people with addictions. The new guidelines eliminate words like “alcoholic,” “addict,” “user” and “abuser,” instead recommending phrasing like “he was addicted” or “people with a heroin addiction.”
The thinking behind these changes is to shift the blame from the people afflicted by the addiction to the addiction itself. For instance, the term “substance abusers” suggests that the individual is at fault while “person with a substance use disorder” is less incriminating.
A 2010 study showed that even seasoned medical professionals were more likely to recommend punitive rather than treatment-oriented measures to people described as “substance abusers” as opposed to “people with substance abuse disorders.” Aside from reforming alcohol and drug rehabilitation, the AP’s changes will make it more palatable for people with addictions to seek help and talk about their experiences with substance abuse.