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Words Matter: Why One Resident is Calling for Change in Colusa

A Colusa County woman is taking a courageous stand against the use of stigmatizing language on the county's website. Susan Wagenaar, who is nearing five years of sobriety, recently posted an open letter on Facebook addressed to Colusa County Health and Human Services.

In her letter, she states, "I am urging you to take a leadership role in reducing the stigma surrounding addiction by encouraging our county's local behavioral health provider to replace the terms “SUBSTANCE ABUSE” and “SUBSTANCE ABUSE SERVICES” with more compassionate terminology on the website."

Reducing Stigma in Colusa County

Wagenaar is not alone in her beliefs.

Psychology Today has spoken out on the topic, stating, "Words matter. Our society’s beliefs about substance use and compulsive behavior problems—and the potential for change—are built into the words we use to speak about these issues."

Dr. John Kelly, a leader in the substance use treatment field at Massachusetts General Hospital, conducted a survey of health professionals. The survey found that referring to patients as “substance abusers” resulted in negative attitudes, including the belief that they should be punished and that their character was to blame for their struggles.

Wagenaar emphasizes that change requires collective action.

"My rural county has a compassionate heart, but too often diverse voices like mine are ignored in favor of supporting the status quo, this must change. As a person in long-term recovery, I deeply understand the need for supportive, non-judgmental language. Using the term "ABUSE" reinforces harmful public stereotypes about individuals struggling with substance use challenges."

Wagennar further illustrates that compassionate language aligns with best practices adopted by neighboring counties like Butte, Lake, Sutter/Yuba, and Sacramento.

As the founder of Clean and Sober Nation, a recovery support movement with members in 50 states and 12 nations, Wagenaar clarifies that she is speaking only as a woman in recovery and a concerned Colusa County resident who holds Health and Human Services in the highest esteem.

“They were there for me, when I was newly sober. I will forever be grateful to Griselda, Maria, Stacy and others, for helping me to overcome my challenges, and live a productive life, that today is centered around helping others to break free from the chains of addiction.”

Barrier to Recovery:

Like many other concerned voices, Interior Health states that stigma is a major barrier that prevents people from getting well. When we use stigmatizing language, we inadvertently block people from reaching out for help.

UPDATE: We are pleased to report that the word ABUSE has been removed from the county's website as of 3/25/2024.

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Clean and Sober Nation video's on YouTube have been viewed over 100,000 times.

Tags: Stigma, Addiction, Colusa County, Words Matter, Advocacy, Health and Human Services, Community Action


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