We embrace a harm reduction-based approach when writing about substance use. Harm reduction focuses on saving lives rather than promoting substance use. Everyone has a right to safety, so it’s important that we meet people where they’re at and provide actionable information to reduce substance-related harm.
Substance use doesn’t imply low self-worth or moral failure, but that has been the narrative for decades. And we’re working to dismantle that.
And for us, balance is key. This means avoiding the obliviousness of writing about increasingly relaxed cannabis laws and poking fun at “stoner” stereotypes while Black and Latino people, particularly men, remain in prison for minor cannabis offenses.
It also means actively rejecting the “hierarchy” of substances and not judging which substances people use and why they use them.
First and foremost, we acknowledge the systemic racism and classism of the “War on Drugs” in the United States and beyond. It has led to state-sponsored harm to communities of color and people in poverty while under the guise of goodwill.
We’re also mindful of the historical stigma associated with the term “drug abuse.”
Our substance use content is always person-first. It also embraces the principles of harm reduction, meaning that our content isn’t about promoting substance use — it’s about saving lives.
We never belittle the reader’s request for information and always balance intent with actionable steps for getting support.
Some people experience psychotic episodes while using this substance → This substance can cause drug-induced episodes in some people
A person who uses drugs
A person who uses substances
A person with a substance use disorder
A person with an addiction
They were a drug addict before they sought help → They had an addiction to [X drug] before they sought help
If you fail treatment
If your treatment plan wasn’t effective
Failing your treatment plan might mean that you continue to experience symptoms → If your treatment plan isn’t effective, you can work with a doctor to explore other options
Associating certain types of sexual activity with a person’s moral character has historically led to groups being excluded from society or being seen as “abnormal” or “amoral.”
Using neutral language in sexual health does not make suggestions as to who someone is as a person. Rather, it provides information in a way that does not shame, judge, or assign blame.
Providing accurate, empathetic, and non-judgmental sexual health information is the first step in preventing unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and HIV through the promotion of healthy sexual behaviors.
As a health and wellness media brand, we have a duty to report on topics of public health fairly and accurately. We also need to be objective in how we discuss subjects such as substances, substance use, and addiction.
Increasing transparency into these topics and rejecting the hierarchy, stereotypes, and historic stigma associated with them is key in providing people — all people — with the information and support they need to ensure safety and good health no matter their decision.
Our Substance Use Guiding Principles
While it would be much easier to list the definitive do’s and don’ts of language, that is not possible — context is critical. Language is always changing and evolving, and any list would soon be out of date. This is why we're always listening for changes. Additionally, there are no definitively "right" or "wrong" answers about what language to use. Context is important, and what works for us might not work for you. While specific word choices will change over time, our community approach first ensures that we are prioritizing those who are the most important to what we do: our readers. See full approach here.