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  • Writer's pictureAshley Sullivan

Why I Hate The Word "Addict"


Quick- what's the first thing you think of when you hear the word "addict?"

What mental images popped into your head?

Was it an image of a person with hopes, dreams, feelings, goals, and unique talents that all represent aspects of who they are- or was it an image of a stereotypical "junkie" or "crackhead" commonly depicted in popular culture? My guess- unless you are someone familiar with person-centered language and the principles of recovery- is that you pictured the latter. A big difference between the two, right?

The truth is, those there is no difference.

If you're having a hard time reconciling those two seemingly contrasting examples- you're not alone. In reality, most people don't really think of a person struggling with addictions as a person just like themself. They think of people struggling with addiction as being different and lesser than themselves- even if only subconsciously. Stating that a person "is" something implies that someone else "is not." And the use of the word "addict" perpetuates these harmful ways of thinking, creating stigma and roadblock to recovery for many people.

When the word "addict" is used to describe an individual, it reduces their identity to consist solely of that one aspect. Nothing unique about the individual is noted, no strengths, no quirks, no hopes. The word "addict" implies that all people who struggle with substance use are consumed solely by their addiction. The same thing happens when people are described as being "schizophrenic," "autistic," or countless additional "othering" terms.

Describing someone in such a manner makes it easy to disconnect ourselves from those whose experiences we find troubling, and rather implying connection and empathy. People frequently referred to by the word "addict" in treatment, by society or by friends and family can begin to internalize that belief subconsciously, which hinders recovery efforts. Labels such as these are disempowering, and recovery should empower people to strengthen their best selves. Using the word "addict" makes people feel as if they only consist of the things they are trying to address in treatment and leads to feelings of hopelessness, disengagement, and relapse rather than recovery.

Using person-centered language reinforces the concept that people are people and not just their problems. It may seem a minor distinction, but it's huge. The word "addict" has a negative, hopeless connotation and leaves little room for recovery. Simply reframing that word into "person with an addiction" clearly communicates that people working towards recovery are just that- people.

Not "addicts."

How do you feel about the word "addict?" Are there other words that you don't like? Completely disagree or have a different perspective? Let me know below in the comments.


1 Comment

Oct 31, 2020

I agree; it creates a false equivalence between an affliction and someone's whole worth, erasing their identity. We certainly don't do this with medical diagnoses, diseases and syndromes.

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