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Words Hurt: How to Speak About Addiction

two men having serious discussion - words

Addiction is a loaded topic.

People have deep-seated attitudes and opinions about addiction, some of which have been passed down over more than one generation. Our attitude about addiction is reflected in the words we use to talk about it.

How we talk about addiction can help or hurt our loved ones who are living with this disease. Sometimes our words can reinforce stereotypes and prejudices, making it more difficult for people to get the help they need.

Common Words and Terms Used to Talk About Addiction

The following are some words and terms that have been used to describe addiction and the addicted person. These words carry attitudes that can feel hurtful or, at the least, unhelpful to the person struggling with substance use disorder:

Junkie, Pothead, Tweaker, Crack-head, Coke-head, Rummy, Drunk

The problem with these types of terms is that they reduce a person to their addiction. You can make them especially insulting by adding “just a…” or “nothing but a …” before them. It makes the person being talked about feel worthless.

It’s understandable that a family member or a friend can become angry and frustrated with the behaviors of someone who is living with an addiction. It’s part of being human to want to express those feelings, but try to separate how you feel about the situation from the words you use to describe it.

Instead of resorting to name-calling, try using phrases like “a person with an addiction” or “someone with a substance use disorder.” These are more neutral expressions that put the person first and also imply that the situation can change.

Drinking Habit or Drug Habit

When you describe someone’s addiction as a drinking or drug habit, it discounts the severity of the situation. All of us have habits we fall into regularly. Most of these habits are benign or only mildly negative. Putting them in the same category as addiction isn’t accurate or fair.

Instead of saying that someone spends $X per day, week, or month to support her habit, you can say that person spends $X per day, week, or month on drugs and alcohol. The second sentence gets the idea across in a more neutral fashion, without any judgment.

Addiction is a Choice

Have you ever read a comment like this online or in the newspaper, or heard someone say that an addicted person “chose” to become addicted? Usually, the commenter goes on to express something along the lines of, “they chose to become addicts so they deserve whatever comes with it.” This type of statement does two things: 1) it makes the person saying it feel morally superior and 2) it demonizes people living with this disease. Neither position is going to get someone with a drug or alcohol addiction into treatment.

Addiction isn’t a choice. This is a disease that doesn’t discriminate: people from all backgrounds and economic groups can become addicted to drugs and alcohol, and all of them are equally deserving of help.

Find Help for a Loved One Living with an Addiction

If you are concerned about a loved one, Great Oaks Recovery can help. Our drug and alcohol treatment center offers a full continuum of care to our valued clients. We can provide detoxification (detox) services if required, along with a residential treatment program staffed by experienced, caring addiction treatment professionals. Our professional relationship with our clients doesn’t stop when they complete treatment; at that point they move into a community-based continuing care program for further support.

Contact us anytime with your questions or to discover more about our facility.

If you or someone you love is in need of alcohol or drug treatment, contact our effective addiction treatment in Houston anytime, at (877) 977-3268. We are here to help.