Context: Person first language (PFL) – a way of referring to individuals with medical conditions or disability that emphasizes the person over their condition or disability – is important in reducing the stigma surrounding individuals who exhibit drug-seeking behavior. Drug-seeking behavior is generally associated with a negative connotation by healthcare professionals, which may create poor provider perceptions of these individuals and potentially impact patient care. Therefore, to reduce stigmatization surrounding drug-seeking behavior and to improve patient care in these individuals, the use of PFL should be promoted.
Objectives: The primary objective of this study is to investigate how frequently research articles focused on drug-seeking behavior adhere to PFL.
Methods: We performed a cross-sectional analysis systematically searching PubMed for articles published between May 1, 2011, and April 30, 2020, focused on drug-seeking behavior. To be included, the article must have met the following criteria: (1) published in a peer-reviewed journal; (2) relevant to drug-seeking behavior; and (3) must include human subjects and be retrievable in English. All articles were screened and data were extracted independently in a masked, duplicate fashion. Each article was reviewed for 19 predefined non-PFL terms with certain terms adopted from the American Medical Association Manual of Style.
Results: Our search returned 699 articles related to drug-seeking behavior, of which 390 articles met inclusion criteria and were analyzed for non-PFL. Our analysis found only 13.6% (53/390) of articles adhered to PFL while 86.4% (337/390) of articles contained at least some form of non-PFL. There was no association between PFL adherence and extracted study characteristics.
Conclusions: PFL adherence is uncommon among research literature focused on drug-seeking behavior. The power of language can be profound, and should be understood by researchers, health care providers, and educators alike, specifically when dealing with known and exhibited characteristics of substance use disorders. This is relevant because of the high prevalence of substance use disorders, limited amount of prior research, and the impact stigma has on patients and healthcare providers.