Addiction affects almost everybody in some way or another. The disease is so widespread, it can come up in conversation often. But popular culture and learned language may have well-meaning individuals unknowingly using harmful or hurtful words. Have you ever wondered if you are using the proper terms to describe someone struggling with addiction or their experience? There are many variations to drug and alcohol addiction vocabulary, but all can be tied to efforts in being compassionate and helping to put an end to the stigma surrounding addiction.
We have compiled a list of popular terms people use when speaking about addiction and recovery, why they should be avoided, and what we should be saying instead.
When someone is struggling with an addiction, people may refer to them as an addict. But think about it this way: would you call someone battling cancer “a cancer”? No. People should not be defined by their addiction. Instead, refer to them as a person that is struggling with addiction and/or alcoholism.
Instead of saying someone “got clean,” consider saying they are in recovery. Stating that someone is now clean implies that they were previously dirty – something that largely contributes to the stigma surrounding addiction. Everyone’s addiction and recovery is different, and we shouldn’t be judging people based on where they’re at in their recovery journey; we should be acknowledging them for taking steps to find recovery and work to maintain it.
People suffer from addiction for a variety of reasons, none of them a moral failing. Addiction is a disease of the brain – a chemical imbalance – caused by mental health issues, prescription misuse, genetics and more. Addiction and relapse are not voluntary choices made by individuals, and we should always approach discussions around somebody’s sobriety with empathy and understanding – not blame, fault or shame.
It’s important to always remember that no matter where someone is in their recovery journey, just starting out or trying again after relapsing, the language we use makes a difference. They are people and certain phrases, words and comments can be extremely negative, even when you may not mean them in that way. We hope that raising awareness about these popular terms and providing alternative ways to talk about and approach those struggling will help end the stigma surrounding substance use disorders.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, call the New England Recovery Center today at 1-877-MyRehab.