Together, we can end addiction stigma

The stigma that surrounds addiction—and the preconceived views of those who struggle with substance use—don’t have to be permanent. 

In fact, views are already shifting due to greater awareness of addiction as a disease, increased understanding of treatment and recovery, and growing empathy and compassion for our family members, friends, and neighbors.

Learn more about addiction and substance use disorder, listen to Vermonters’ experiences with this disease, and find helpful support resources for you, your family, or your friend. 

Addressing stigma through support and education
How can you support someone with a substance use disorder?

Every person in someone’s life can provide support through addiction and recovery.

  • Use stigma-free words
  • Be supportive and encourage speaking to a caring professional to discuss treatment and recovery options
  • Rebuild trust by setting boundaries, starting small and adding to it, and being patient

When supporting someone close to you who is in recovery, it’s also important to take care of yourself.

  • Setting boundaries
  • Practicing self-care
  • Learning more about addiction
  • Finding support from peers and professionals
What is addiction?

Addiction is a chronic illness that can be activated by genes, upbringing, social groups, and living environments. Addiction can change the way people behave. People may continue to use even after experiencing how it has harmed physical health, mental wellbeing and relationships. Cravings can be so overpowering that it’s hard to think about anything else—including how a person’s behavior can be harmful to them and others.

The good news is that addiction can be treated, treatment can be effective, and people can recover.

What is treatment?

Because everyone experiences addiction differently, there are many different types of treatment options available to help meet a person’s needs and situation.

All treatment options include counseling with a caring professional. There are one-on-one as well as group counseling options. Some people have the best success with the personal attention and closeness of one-on-one support, while others do best when experiences are shared with others who are, or have been, in the same situation.

Some treatment programs include holistic services, like yoga, meditation, and even performing arts (art, music, dance and writing). This can help people explore and express feelings, and even find out why they have experienced addiction.

Some people have the best success when addiction is treated with medication, just like for other illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and depression. These medications are prescribed by a doctor after discussing care options. Medications are a tool that can be used in addition to counseling, because medication-assisted treatment can help people deal with withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and even make it less likely a person will use the drug again in the future.

“This isn’t a character flaw. This isn’t a broken moral compass.
This is a disease like diabetes or cancer.”

Some people have the best success when continuing to live at home and going about their daily routines. Other people do best when living somewhere where there are opportunities to fully focus on treatment for a short period of time.

People who are experiencing a crisis, are pregnant, or parenting are provided priority for treatment services.

The best way to learn about treatment options in Vermont, and to find out what type of treatment is right for your family member or friend, is to talk to a caring professional.

VT Helplink alcohol and drug support center logo

For free and confidential alcohol and drug support and referral services, call 802-565-LINK (5465) or visit

What is recovery?

Recovery begins the minute someone seeks help for addiction, but it is a lifelong journey that may have many paths and bumps.  

This journey to recovery often starts with treatment, because this helps a person break the hold that addiction has on mental and physical health.

Continued support by others who are or have been in a similar situation can help people recover. These programs are called “peer support groups.” Some may be based on the “twelve-step program,” such as Alcohol or Narcotics Anonymous.

Another source for peer-support in Vermont is Recovery Coaches who are in recovery for their own addiction and who have been trained to help support and guide others through the recovery journey. Recovery Coaches do not replace counseling or other recovery services, but can help people improve and sustain recovery and wellness in all life areas—like health, living and working situations, and relationships. Recovery coaches work with recovery centers and even emergency departments to provide support when people may need it most.

“I was once a very sick person, but I have recovered. 
And now I in turn am trying to help people.”

Recovery Centers are places where people can find recovery programs within communities. These centers can help us establish connections, employment, and stable housing. There are even programs for families to help get through the toll addiction takes.

Many recovery centers have employment programs to help people find meaningful employment. They assist with resumes, interview skills, identify job openings, and work with recovery-friendly employers.

Some recovery centers have programs to support Moms in Recovery through safe, judgment- free spaces where moms can connect with each other and to additional services for mothers and children.

Recovery housing creates a substance-free living environment to help people transition from treatment programs and help establish a new routine without alcohol or other drugs. Here people support each other until there is readiness and stability to move back home or to a new home.

Since addiction can be influenced by genes, upbringing, social groups, and living environments, it’s important to focus on wellbeing in all of these areas during the recovery journey. This can sometimes be difficult, which is why support and understanding can be so helpful.

“I am a new creation. I am a new person.
I am not who I used to be.”

The best way to learn about recovery options in Vermont and to find the recovery services that are right for you, your family or friend, is to talk to a caring professional.

You can also call the Vermont Recovery Network at (802) 738-8998 or visit

If you are interested in becoming a Recovery Coach and helping others through their recovery, contact Recovery Vermont at (802) 223-6263 or visit and learn about the Recovery Coach Academy.

VT Helplink alcohol and drug support center logo

For free and confidential alcohol and drug support and referral services, call 802-565-LINK (5465) or visit

What about recurrence?

Relapse, or more accurately, recurrence, is a part of many people’s recovery journey. Recurrence does not mean that someone has failed because recovery is on-going and lifelong. Being supportive of your family member or friend during a time of recurrence will help continue the work and progress toward recovery.

Why does language matter?

Language influences how people feel about addiction, about those who are experiencing addiction, and about the treatment and recovery process. Language also influences how people feel about themselves—to the point of impacting whether they will seek help and whether recovery will be successful. Language is powerful.

Words can contribute to stigma, and stigma is one of the biggest reasons why people don’t seek treatment for addiction. Stigma-free language reminds people that addiction is an illness, and helps support people in seeking and receiving better care and treatment.

“Person-first language” is non-judgmental and puts the person first, rather than defining a person based on their illness. Instead of saying “addict,” the person-first way to say it would be “a person experiencing addiction” or “a person with substance use disorder.”

“Words have power. They can hurt. 
But they can also heal.”

Here are some words to avoid and words to use in their place.

Addict/abuser/junkiePerson with substance use disorder
AlcoholicPerson with alcohol use disorder
AbuseMisuse, harmful use
Drug problem, drug habitSubstance use disorder
Drug abuseMisuse, harmful use
Drug abuser/userPerson with substance use disorder
CleanAbstinent, not actively using
DirtyActively using
A clean drug screenTesting negative for substance use
A dirty drug screenTesting positive for substance use
Former/reformed addict/alcoholicPerson in recovery, person in long-term recovery
Opioid replacement, methadone maintenanceMedications for addiction treatment

Changing language can be challenging and take time to get used to, but it can make a real difference in helping to reduce stigma and make recovery successful.

Recovery Stories

Contact Us
Substance Use Programs (DSU)

Vermont Department of Health
280 State Drive
Waterbury, VT 05671-8340

[email protected]

More resources
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VT Helplink
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VT Recovery Network
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