Moving beyond 'people-first' language: A glossary of contested terms in substance use


Moving beyond 'people-first' language: A glossary of contested terms in substance use

6 October 2020

The drugs field deploys a huge range of technical terms and jargon. Much of this is borrowed from other fields – medicine, research, statistics, sociology etc. There are also terms used by people who use drugs and terms specific to treatment and recovery contexts. Of course, most of these terms are adequately defined in a good dictionary.

However, there are terms which have become key terms within the drugs field which involve some specialist knowledge to fully understand their significance. Some of this terminology is contested or commonly misunderstood. There is also a wider discourse around drugs, drug use and related issues that involves people who use drugs, the media and the wider public. Some of the language used within this wider sphere is contentious or misunderstood.

This glossary was developed originally for SDF board members, staff, trainees and volunteers. In publishing it, SDF aims to improve communication and shared understanding across the drugs field in Scotland by increasing understanding of the language used both in everyday conversation and discussion of drug issues and in more specialist environments.This glossary clarifies the nature of any contention so that people can at least understand the viewpoints of others and, hopefully, any limitation in their own insight, when they cannot agree. SDF’s own organisational language choices are explained.

SDF has stakeholders who use all of the terms described here and it is important that as far as possible, people can understand each other and that unnecessary contention or conflict across the drugs field can be eliminated.