Am I an addict or am I a person with an addiction?
Words are powerful, and no one appreciates being labeled. Substance use disorders and the stigma of addiction has long undermined the self-esteem of recovering people. People in recovery can be especially vulnerable when it comes to their identity and sense of self-worth.
The disease concept of alcoholism and drug dependency has helped broaden the public understanding of these conditions a great deal. In 1952, the American Psychological Association (APA) first classified alcoholism and drug addiction under Sociopathic Personality Disturbance in DSM-I. This classification and the American Medical Association’s identification of alcoholism as a disease were significant milestones.
These events and the work that followed them changed how we talk about substance use disorders in the latter half of the 20th century. Understanding the “addict” as a patient with a condition was an essential first step toward the evolution of effective treatment of substance use disorders.
The impact of addiction stigma
One of the most damaging aspects of the addiction stigma is shame. The shame and guilt people with addictions often feel can prevent them from being honest about their addiction and seeking help. When they do seek help, this stigma can undermine their confidence.
The way to move past this addiction stigma is to recognize the individual behind every story. We must see a person rather than a diagnosis. It hardly seems fair to sum up a person’s identity in their diagnosis, does it?
One way we can improve the quality of our recovery dialogue is to separate the individual from their condition. Rather than labeling a person as an “addict,” we refer to them as a “person with a substance use disorder.” That simple change in terminology alone has an impact.
It is a constant reminder that the problem is the disorder itself, not the patient. It also sends a message to others that the person and the addiction are two separate things. Ideally, it constantly reinforces the notion that the person is more than their disorder.
Awareness is key
Cultivating awareness about the language we use yields great benefits. Anything we can do to reduce the addiction stigma that makes it easier for the person with a substance use disorder to get help is well worth doing.
Another term the recovery community is working to move away from is “clean.” Categorizing someone sober as “clean” and someone in active addiction as “dirty” reinforces the same stigmas as the term “addict.” It associates active addiction with filth and grime and does not help anyone’s self-esteem.
Shaming has no place in recovery or any healthy, positive dialogue. We have a responsibility as a community of recovered people and care providers to root out this type of toxic language wherever we can. Keeping the focus on the positive is essential. People in recovery and people aspiring to recover ought to feel confident to move their life in a positive direction.
Recovery is a lifestyle choice, and it is, by nature, aspirational. Negative language, guilt and shame have no place here. Not only are they not helpful as motivation, but they are also detrimental to every goal we have in recovery. Together we can raise awareness to reform and improve the language of recovery and addiction care.
Help for substance use disorder
If you are caught in the cycle of substance use, you are not alone. You are more than just your substance use disorder—and we want to help you discover who you are without the influence of drugs or alcohol.
At Promises Behavioral Health, we believe in removing stigmas to help our communities get the best caring, compassionate substance use treatment.
Call us today at 844 875 5609 to find out more information on how
we can help you or your loved one get the support you need.
By Ryan Egan