The opioid crisis continues to destroy lives and communities. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to combat addiction stigma and the harmful assumptions our society makes about drug use. A common belief is the idea that those who use harmful substances are weak, immoral, or selfish. This view is unfair to the millions of people who have fallen victim to opioids and other addictive drugs. Furthermore, by harming their self esteem, it actually makes it harder to solve the crisis. Thus, we must treat drug users in a humane and respectful way, and that begins by ceasing to call them “addicts.”
The Difference Between “Addict” and “Addiction”
The chief problem with the term “addict” is that it defines people according to their health condition. Those who have become addicted to opioids have lives, ambitions, and identities beyond the substances they use. If you call them “addicts,” you imply that those other details don’t matter. Their only defining feature, apparently, is their use of harmful substances— an insulting and demoralizing implication.
Calling someone an “addict” is particularly problematic because of that term’s negative connotations. It literally means “person who has an addiction”. However, in practice, society views ‘addicts’ as irresponsible, weak, and burdensome to their families and communities. In fact, even those with the most severe addictions often developed the problem through no fault of their own. Many people become addicted to opioids because their doctor prescribed them; it’s hardly irresponsible to follow professional medical advice. Even those who use heroin are often self-medicating some untreated emotional disorder. Many addicted people also continue to live productive lives despite having such serious health problems, and are in no way burdens. Regardless of why they started using opioids, no one deserves to be called an “addict.”
How Adjusting Our Language Helps Address Addiction
Besides being unfair and hurtful, calling those with drug addictions “addicts”, is also counterproductive. Stigmatizing people with addictions and associating them with inaccurate ideas, places them in an isolated emotional space, which makes it harder for them to ask for help. By transitioning to more appropriate language, we can:
Cultivate Confidence– Confidence is essential to overcoming substance abuse disorders. No matter how much advice and medical support an individual with an addiction may have, if they lack the self-esteem to take advantage of these resources, they will struggle to overcome this condition. By ceasing to use stigmatizing terms, we let these people feel good about themselves. In turn, increasing their odds of recovering quickly and permanently.
- Aid Addiction Accuracy– Treating addiction as an identity makes it harder to identify and aid the person suffering from it. Society expects those with addictions to be consumed by their disorder. On the contrary, many have jobs, social lives, and other hallmarks of healthy living. Their friends and families may not realize they have a substance use problem, and are less likely to intervene in time. Avoiding the term “addict” makes it easier to see the real person affected by addiction, with all their strengths and weaknesses.
- Encourage Individualized Evaluation– By replacing the term “addict” with more accurate language, we spur people to think about the individual patient with their unique needs, experiences, and genes. This allows us to go beyond discussing general symptoms, which is often not enough for successful treatment. This opens the door to addressing other misconceptions, such as the tendency to conflate addiction with dependence.
The effort to avoid terms like “addict” is already getting results. The most recent edition of the AP Stylebook, for example, recommends against using the term, suggesting instead that writers say someone “has an addiction,” “is addicted, or “uses drugs.” Given that CBS, the New York Times, and other major news organizations rely on the Stylebook, these changes are likely to have far-reaching effects on how we understand, view and actually treat addiction.
The language we use not only affects how we discuss drug abuse, but also changes how we address it. For more information on effectively treating those suffering from opioid addiction, contact the Waismann Method – Advanced Opioid Addiction Treatment Center today!