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Do Words Matter in Addiction Treatment?

The language used in relation to addiction and treatment can be vital to the way that we understand and view the disease. The words used when describing addiction can have a lot to with the stigma associated with being an addict. Certain terms can be negative, blame the person struggling with addiction and can make them feel less optimistic about their recovery.

The way that people discuss addiction especially in rehab treatment centers can have more of an impact than some may realize. Even using terms like “addict”, getting “clean” and other common words can create a lot of negativity surrounding what the person is going through. Being careful about how you approach someone’s illness using compassionate language can be helpful when discussing addiction.

Someone struggling with addiction needs to be treated as a person trying to recover from a chronic condition. There should be no blame or judgemental terms that may make them feel that they have done something wrong. Even subtle language choices can have an affect on the way a person views themselves and their substance issues as they go through recovery.

Do Words Matter in Addiction Treatment?

Negative Terms and Their Impact

Certain words often used when describing addiction can have a harmful impact on the individual’s understanding of what they are going through. Common terms like “abuse” or “abuser” can increase the stigma behind drug problems because it makes the person feel that they are defined by their negative habits. Even being referred to as an “addict” can make them feel that they are being labeled as someone who is a drug user rather than someone struggling with a difficult illness.

The way people in recovery describe medications and life-saving drugs like methadone and buprenorphine can also have an effect on the patient’s view of their own illness. Referring to these kinds of medications as “replacements” or “substitutes” may make the patient feel that they are still using drugs and will not be able to quit. Methadone is not just a replacement drug, it is something that can transform a person’s addiction and help them manage their behavior until they can be free from any medication.

Any term that makes a person in recovery feel that they are to blame for their problem or that they will forever be labeled an addict can make them feel pessimistic. They might feel that they cannot change themselves if they have negative labels or are given replacement drugs because they can’t ever become sober. Patients need positive, hopeful language that will help them feel that they can overcome their illness and make a permanent change.

How Stigma Affects Treatment

It is important for someone in recovery to feel that they simply have a chronic condition that is manageable if they take the right steps. Many people struggling with addiction already feel hopeless because they may have tried to quit or minimize their behavior in the past. When their addiction feels out of control they need to avoid feeling like they can’t change themselves or improve their lives.

There is also a lot of shame surrounding addiction and using words that make patients feel shameful can be stigmatizing in treatment. There is already so much shame surrounding the terms “addict” and “abuser” that the patient may feel even worse when those terms are used often in rehab. It is important for them to feel that they are just a normal human being who has a disorder that they are treating.

When patients feel stigmatize they may feel less motivated to be committed to their recovery. If their situation seems hopeless or they believe that they will always be seen as an addict then they may be less inclined to continue their progress. Positivity, optimism and above all compassion are the keys to recovery for people struggling with addictive behaviors.

Changing Terms in Recovery

Substituting terms with negative connotations to some that are neutral or more understanding of the illness can make a major difference for patients. Instead of using words like “addict, junkie or alcoholic” people in recovery treatment can simply say that the person has a “substance use disorder”. This accurately identifies that they have a problem without labeling them or making their substance problems a defining characteristic.

Instead of using terms like “clean” or “dirty” which have negative connotations you can simply say a person is “abstinent or not using” and “actively using” if they have relapsed. Instead of saying a person is a “former addict” you can say that they are a “person in recovery”. All of these substitute terms are more neutral ways to describe a person’s situation.

The language that is used in recovery can seem like a subtle thing but it can make a big difference in how people treatment view themselves and their progress in battling their substance issues.

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