Drug abuse or misuse

The terms abuse and misuse imply that the drug use being referred to is harmful or done in a potentially harmful way. These terms often refer to use that is dependent or part of a problematic behaviour.

Those who believe that drug taking outside of a medical context is wrong, will tend to use these terms. The Government, for example, still uses the term misuse, in keeping with their policies that aim to prevent non-medical drug taking.

Drug use by children is regarded as inappropriate and again the terms abuse and misuse are often used, such as in the case of volatile substance abuse.

Many people working in the drugs field, however, prefer to use the term drug use. This term implies that, although drug taking has some risks, it is not necessarily wrong or dangerous. In this way the term does not value-judge the taking of drugs.

Recently there have been efforts to revise the terminology used in the drugs field as a way of reducing the stigma and negative stereotypes around drug use. Some suggested examples include using:

  • People/person who use/s drugs rather than Drug abuser; drug misuser
  • People/person who inject drugs rather than Injector; junkie; smackhead
  • People/person with drug dependence rather than Addict; drug abuser; drug misuser; substance abuser
  • Drug dependence rather than Addiction; drug addiction
  • Avoiding the terms clean and dirty

Further reading

Words matter: Language statement and reference guide, INPUD and ANPUD (PDF)

Words Matter – Terms to Use and Avoid When Talking About Addiction NIDA, USA

Updated November 2021