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A person is a person first. Using person first language recognizes that an individual is first and foremost an individual who has been created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26 NIV) and then maintains the integrity of individuals as whole human beings by distinguishing the person from a diagnosis they may have. NewDay operates a Joint Commission accredited facility near Bloomington, Indiana, in which we work with individuals who have Substance Use Disorder (SUD). Notice how the language separates the person from the problem and maintains their identity – by removing language that equates people with their struggle, disorder, condition or disability. This is also considered non-stigmatizing language.

Examples of Person First Language:

  • “Person with substance use disorder” instead of “addict”;
  • “Return to use” instead of “relapse”;
  • “Testing positive” instead of “dirty test”;
  • “Unhoused” or “person experiencing homelessness” instead of “homeless”;
  • “Person in recovery” or “recoveree” instead of “former addict”;
  • “Substance use disorder” instead of “habit”;
  • “Person with substance use disorder” instead of “alcoholic”;
  • Person with Bipolar Disorder instead of “Bipolar”;
  • Person with a disability instead of “disabled”.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), using non-stigmatizing language is important for the following reasons:

  1. A person who feels stigmatized may be less willing to seek treatment and receive needed help;
  2. Research shows that the use of stigmatizing language in healthcare settings can negatively impact the quality of care provided to individuals with substance use disorders;
  3. The stereotyping of individuals with substance use disorder can cause others to feel, “pity, fear, anger or desire to social distance from people with SUD” when they are in fact our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, moms, dads, uncles, aunts, and best friends.
people first language

Furthermore, it is recommended that “substance use” be used to describe all substances, including alcohol and other drugs and it is considered evidence-based language.

At NewDay, we believe words are powerful. As Christians, we are called to, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:6 ESV). Please don’t underestimate the impact of words – they are powerful!


If you or someone you love is struggling with a substance use disorder (SUD) and would like help or would like to pursue individual therapy, please feel free to contact our office at 217-291-1967 or visit our website at: for more information.

Resources on Person First Language:

Written by Lisa Wells, Counseling Director at NewDay Center