As with many instances in life, what you say and how you say it matters when it comes to recovery. Certain language and labels in the world of recovery can be detrimental when it comes to an addict’s well-being. People are constantly working to change the language surrounding addiction, and these are the reasons why.
Labels contribute to existing stigmas.
Calling someone a druggie or a junkie may not seem like that big of a deal, but it is. There is already a stigma attached to addiction, the World Health Organization even conducted a study that found it was the most stigmatized social problem. When people use labels intended to categorize a person, it creates even more of a barrier between those who struggle with substance abuse and “normal” people. Even calling someone with substance abuse an “addict” or an “alcoholic” (both common terms) can have a negative impact and make that person feel like “just” an addict or an alcoholic, rather than a real person who happens to suffer from a disease. Instead, using phrases like substance use and substance dependence are encouraged.
Little words make a difference.
Have you ever noticed how someone has cancer or diabetes, but is an addict or junkie? For some reason when it comes to addiction, the world likes to make the person into the disease rather than portray them as someone who is suffering from that disease. That one word makes a difference and can almost seem to imply that a substance abuser chose to have an addiction rather than the truth, which is that addiction is a disease.
Changing the language around addiction will benefit everyone.
Not only people with substance abuse with benefit from an evolved use of language. It will make a difference in the world of politicians, medicine, insurance and the public. Changing language so that addiction is viewed as less of a choice and more of a disease could result in more funding for treatment and less judgment surrounding those who choose to work with people suffering from the disease of addiction. Changing the language is the first step toward better and more affordable care for people with this disease.
Language choice is about more than just being politically correct.
Language matters because it will affect how anyone who struggles with substance abuse views themselves. If they lump themselves into the category of “addict” or “alcoholic,” they will be less likely to realize all of the other things they are. They could be a student, a sibling, a child, a teacher – yet all those things could be overshadowed by thinking of themselves as just another addict, which can impede on their recovery. No one deserves to think of themselves that way, and language choice can help make a difference.
Written by: Beth Leipholtz