Does Language Affect How We View Addiction?


Let’s face it, we’d be hard pressed to find anyone in our country whose lives haven’t been affected by substance abuse in some way or another. Whether through personal experience or a close friend or family member’s. Unfortunately, some experts say that there are still many negative connotations associated with drug abuse and in order to open up more dialogue about it, some of the language needs to change.

The term “addict” has changed from a way to describe a medical problem to a word that encompasses pain, desperation, deceit, selfishness and relapse. The public has taken this term and attached so many negative traits to the word “addict” that admitting to being one is oftentimes the hardest hurdle to overcome. Instead of creating an environment where drug addiction is looked at as a problem that needs to be addressed with care, compassion and in a treatment setting, the general public has made “addict” a dirty word. Similar attitudes have been formulated for other words like “alcoholic” and “substance abuser.”

While many of the more common, and often derogatory, words were used as they described the behavior of the individual, placing a permanent negative label can have long-lasting negative effects as well. Of course this doesn’t mean that addiction should simply be accepted, but it does mean we can open to more positive ways of talking about and addressing the issue.

“Research shows that the language we use to describe [the problem] can either perpetuate or overcome the stereotypes, prejudice and lack of empathy that keeps people from getting treatment they need. Scientific evidence demonstrates that [addiction] is caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors, not moral weakness on the part of the individual. Our language should reflect that,” explained Michael Botticelli, United States Drug Czar.

Much of the background for this assertion is due to research from Dr. John F. Kelly, who is an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Recommendations include referring to people has having a substance use disorder, as it is intended to reflect not a weakness of moral character, but another problem that can be addressed with treatment.

At Gulf Breeze Recovery, we absolutely agree that how addiction is talked about can have an impact on how it is viewed by people. With negative connotations abound throughout even the rehabilitation industry, we believe in focusing on what is right with someone rather than what is wrong. We don’t speak of our guests as addicts, but rather people who are restructuring their lives to no longer harm themselves and others through substance abuse.


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