Substance Use Disorder


The clinical term describing the occurrence of recurrent use of alcohol and/or drugs causing clinically significant impairment, including health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home. Sometimes referred to as “addiction”, substance use disorders are common, recurrent, and often serious, but they are treatable and many people do recover.

  • SUBSTANCE USE - The use of a substance or substances, usually for the purposes of pain management and/or intoxication. This is the preferred term over substance abuse which some people believe implies negative judgement and blame. Instead, many recommend using the terms “substance use” or “non-medical use.
  • SUBSTANCE USE DISORDER - A term sometimes used to describe an array of problems resulting from the use of drugs and/or alcohol. It has also been used as a diagnostic label. Person with a Substance Use Disorder is the preferred term over terms like “alcoholic”, “addict”, or “junkie” which some people believe is de-humanizing and implies negative judgement and blame. Some people with Substance Use Disorders may refer to themselves as an “addict”, but this is not appropriate language from a provider in a clinical or professional setting.

To learn more about why words about addiction matter, check out Grayken Center for Addiction’s work on reducing stigma. 


Adapted from SAMHSA by the Grayken Center for Addiction.