Words carry incredible power. We rarely think about the many hidden meanings of the words we use to describe others, particularly when it comes to addiction. It’s important to understand that there are reasons addiction professionals choose their words carefully.
The medical community has come to understand addiction as a disease, not a moral failing. However, the language people have been using for years places judgments on someone with a substance use disorder. It’s easy to dismiss the preferred language of addiction professionals as another politically correct movement, but it’s vital that we understand why language matters with addiction.
Outdated Terms Carried Harmful Connotations
Addiction – and the people suffering from it – used to be described with heavily loaded words. Purging negatively charged jargon from the addiction treatment industry has been a much-needed effort.
Consider the words people have used to describe those with substance use disorders – junkies, abusers, drunks. These words don’t just carry hidden meanings; they are blatant insults. They’re also inaccurate in how they describe people with substance use disorders.
Thankfully, most people understand how harmful this language can be. However, more subtle damaging language is still widely used. For example, most addiction professionals no longer refer to people suffering from substance use disorders as “addicts.” Instead, they say that someone is suffering from an addiction. This might seem like a subtle adjustment, but it’s an important one. It separates the person from the disease. Addiction doesn’t define someone; it is a condition they suffer from.
The word “abuse” is also being eliminated from the industry’s lexicon because it fails to frame substance use disorder as a disease. It places blame on the sufferer and indirectly absolves those who are promoting or contributing to the disorder. So, now you have a better idea why language matters with addiction, but which words should you use?
A Primer on Appropriate Language When Speaking About Addiction
What words can you use to describe addiction? Here are some examples of language commonly used in the addiction treatment field.
Substance use disorder: The disease of addiction. Don’t use words like habit or drug abuse.
Person with an addiction (or person with a substance use disorder): How to describe someone struggling with addiction. Don’t use antiquated terms like abuser or addict.
Sobriety: The state of being substance-free. This word is preferred to outdated terms like clean, which implies a judgment on people using substances.
Recovery: The process of managing a substance use disorder. Recovery is a life-long journey, and the clinical nature of the term itself is an accurate description of effectively managing an addictive disease.
The language people use to describe addiction is evolving, but it is currently light years ahead of the outdated terms of the past. The more comfortable we are using the appropriate terminology, the more we can dispel notions of addiction as a moral failing or lack of willpower.
Why Language Matters with Addiction
Words frame how we think about the world. Misconceptions about addictions loom large, and they present obstacles to people who need help. Some people with substance use disorders never get the treatment they need because of the stigma associated with their condition. That’s tragic, but it’s fixable. By choosing our words more carefully, we lessen the grip of this stigma on people who desperately need help.
Changing how we speak about addiction requires little effort, and it pays dividends for those suffering from substance use disorders. If you have someone in your life that is struggling with addiction, consider the ways you think and talk about their struggles. If you suffer from a substance use disorder, think about the words you use to describe yourself. Do they carry hidden meanings? Do they create an unnecessary obstacle in your life?
We can all take stock in the ways we speak about addiction. A medical condition requires treatment, and a substance use disorder is no exception. Remember, addiction is a disease, and we should do our best to speak about it in terms that encourage sufferers to get help. Ultimately, understanding why language matters with addiction is about ridding ourselves of the stigma that prevents people from seeking treatment.
If You Need Treatment, BRC Recovery is Here to Help
At BRC Recovery, we know how important it is to overcome barriers people face when they need treatment. We specialize in helping people that believe themselves to be treatment resistant. We can tell you that no one is beyond help.