Media advisory

Monday July 19, 2021


From a perspective published in Neuropsychopharmacology, leaders from the National Institutes of Health discuss how using appropriate language to describe mental illness and addiction can help reduce stigma and improve the way people with these conditions are treated in institutions. health and in society as a whole. The authors define stigma as negative attitudes towards people based on certain distinguishing characteristics. Over a decade of research has shown that stigma contributes significantly to negative health outcomes and can be a barrier to seeking treatment for mental illness or substance use disorders.

In the United States, 35% of people with severe mental illness and almost 90% of people with substance use disorders go untreated. The authors of the perspective point out that stigma-related biases among clinicians may contribute to an anti-treatment mindset and imperfect clinical care, including failure to implement proven treatment methods. Additionally, when someone with a mental illness or substance use disorder continues to be stigmatized, they may begin to internalize them. This “self-stigma” can lead to low self-esteem and feelings of self-worth and can become a continuing source of distress that can exacerbate symptoms and create barriers to successful treatment.

Conversely, efforts to reduce stigma can reduce the psychological burden it places on individuals and can be an important element in removing barriers to care. The authors highlight numerous studies showing that the use of scientifically accurate language and terms that centralize the experience of patients with mental illness and substance use disorders is a key element in reducing the stigma. They argue that a change in language is crucial in mobilizing resources for mental health and addiction services and eroding the stigma that prevents those who need these services from seeking or receiving them. Although the stigma is difficult to remove, they argue that changing the language we use to describe these conditions can make a significant and immediate difference for people who suffer from them.


ND Volkow, JA Gordon and GF Koob. Choose appropriate language to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and substance use disorders. Neuropsychopharmacology. DOI: 10.1038 / s41386-021-01069-4 (2021).


  • Nora D. Volkow, MD, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
  • George F. Koob, Ph.D., director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

About the National Institute for Drug Abuse Control (NIDA): NIDA is a component of the National Institutes of Health, US Department of Health and Human Services. NIDA supports most of the world’s research on the health aspects of drug use and addiction. The Institute implements a wide variety of programs to inform policy, improve practice, and advance the science of addiction. For more information about NIDA and its programs, visit

About the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA): The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health, is the primary U.S. agency responsible for conducting and supporting research into the causes, consequences, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of alcohol use disorders. The NIAAA also disseminates research results to general, professional and academic audiences. Additional information and publications on alcohol research are available at

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH):The NIH, the national agency for medical research, comprises 27 institutes and centers and is part of the US Department of Health and Human Services. The NIH is the principal federal agency that conducts and supports basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and studies the causes, treatments, and cures for common and rare diseases. For more information about the NIH and its programs, visit

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