Changing the Way We Talk About Addiction: Words of Love and Encouragement

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Changing the Way We Talk About Addiction: Words of Love and Encouragement

The language we use in our daily lives involves more than simply exchanging conversation; it’s a symbolic interpretation of what different things mean to us as individuals and as a society, and certain words that are used can have the power to change an entire nation’s point of view on a particular subject. Unfortunately, when it comes to the world of addiction recovery, there are a number of words that are used that only perpetuate negative views of others – and, in turn, further promote discrimination of people who’ve battled addiction but who are trying to improve their lives in the best ways possible.

Words That Harm 

If asked to list some words that depict those who’ve battled addiction, there are probably a lot of words that you could come up with, such as:

  • “Addict”
  • “Tweeker”
  • “Drunk”
  • “Alcoholic”
  • “Junkie”
  • And more

In 2017, the National Public Radio (NPR) discussed this very topic – what words should we be using to describe people who have been or are currently in a situation of addiction? They stated: “While we have not banned the words ‘addict’ or ‘alcoholic’, we do agree that it’s better to use the first-person approach.”

Very Well Mind, a website that publishes information related to a number of disorders, notes that language including the vocabulary above not only makes people feel as though they’re solely their addiction and nothing more, but it also pushes this idea that a person who has struggled with addiction can and never will be more than their circumstances. In a sense, it pushes people down – and if we can change the way we talk about these individuals, perhaps more support will be provided and more people will feel empowered to seek help. 

First-Person Language: What It Entails

A clear example of this would be instead of calling a person an “alcoholic”, we could say “a person who battles alcoholism”. While this may seem like a simple, redundant change, it changes the meaning altogether; whereas the first vocabulary word suggests that alcoholism is all a person is, the second phrase suggests that there is a human being with a wide range of thoughts, experiences, hopes, and dreams and that alcoholism is a disease they’re currently battling. 

In 2017, Harvard Health explained that not only do words stigmatize people who are battling these disorders, but they also make it harder for people to want to seek treatment because they don’t want to be classified under a certain label. They stated: “The use of ‘abuse’ and ‘abuser’ has been shown to increase stigma even among highly trained clinicians, who recommend more punitive treatment when an individual is described that way. We do not call patients with diabetes ‘sugar abusers’ nor do we say their blood is ‘dirty’ with sugar…”

They bring up an incredibly valid point, in that there seem to be some contradicting stipulations that are placed on those with addiction as compared to individuals who face serious health complications, such as diabetes. How can our society change the way we speak about those with addiction? Mostly, we can begin by changing at the individual level.

Being More Supportive in Everyday Life

If you have a loved one who is battling addiction or is in addiction recovery, make the deliberate decision to speak differently about what they’re going through – both when speaking with them and with speaking to others. Rather than associating addiction with being “dirty”, “disgusting” or otherwise deplorable, consider addiction as a disease that needs support for a person to seek help. Become more aware of the day-to-day interactions that you have – and consider how the language you use makes you feel.

Live Science, a website that publishes articles on news, technology, animals, history, culture and more, informs us that addiction truly is a disease; a person who battles addiction doesn’t have the control to simply “stop” taking substances or to lessen the amount of alcohol or drugs that they take. Rather, once addiction has taken over, the mind and body are too far controlled by the disease to give a person any sense of control over what they think or do. Their actions change, they plan their lives around substance abuse and they may even say harsh things to their loved ones in an attempt to pursue what the addiction is telling them is the most important thing to go after. 

When our loved ones are going through this, they are truly not themselves. They turn into someone we hardly recognize – and rather than punishing them as a society through the way we talk about them, we need to approach them with love and support. We need to guide them to seek help, to turn their lives around and to do what we can to ensure they get there. The harsh language that we use only perpetuates and harbors greater guilt and shame, and this doesn’t help us achieve the goal that we ultimately want: for our loved ones to seek help and get better. 

Avalon Malibu is a world-renowned, California state-licensed mental health and substance abuse recovery center. If you are ready to seek treatment to develop the tools you need to overcome life’s obstacles and be on the road towards happiness, health, and well-being, call us today at 844-857-5992 for a consultation. It’s never too late, and there are people here ready to help you – it’s never too late to begin taking steps towards a happier, healthier life. 

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