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Friday, July 19, 2019

Rethinking the Language of Addiction

Combating stigmas has proven to be one of the most significant challenges of our time. The way society views and talks about people with mental health conditions have a cost. When people with potentially deadly health disorders are looked at differently than others, it makes them less likely to open up and seek help. The longstanding labels placed on men and women living with alcohol and substance use disorders are harmful to us all.

People in recovery for alcohol use disorder tend to refer to themselves as alcoholics. They identify in meetings by saying, "Hi, my name is..., and I am an alcoholic." It's a long-held tradition in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous to start sharing in that manner. However, the term alcoholic is dated; the medical community no longer uses the word alcoholism, instead opting for alcohol use disorder or AUD.

It's hard to change the way we talk about disorders with symptoms that include chronic, hazardous drug and alcohol use. How we refer to men and women with use disorders may seem of little importance in the grand scheme of things, but there is evidence that it matters.

Not too long ago, the medical community still viewed people who drank or drugged to excess as being short on moral fiber, willpower, and constitution. Not surprisingly, the public continues to utter harmful stereotypes about people with use disorders. Caustic sobriquets too are often attached to individuals who have been compartmentalized by the public.

"Boozehounds," "winos," "drunks," "sots," and "lushes" are several common monikers for people who struggle with alcohol. The bynames for persons with a substance use disorder are even more vitriolic. They include "junkie," "dope fiend," "cokehead," and "druggie;" the list is far too long to recount in full.

What to call someone who uses heroin?

Much like the rooms of AA, those who attend Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings usually identify as addicts. They use that word in the company of safe and supportive people who are less likely to judge like the general public. However, using the words addiction and addict has come into question in recent years. The medical community is rethinking how they refer to individuals who have been social pariahs for time immemorial.

As many of you know, America is amid a heroin scourge; use of the drug has risen exponentially during the last decade. More people are seeking treatment for opioid use disorders involving heroin, but there is some debate as to how to talk about those who use heroin when in medical settings. A new study, published in the journal Addiction, shed some light on this subject.

The survey indicates that people entering substance use disorder treatment for heroin use, usually called themselves "addicts," ScienceDaily reports. Researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health and the University of Massachusetts Medical School asked 263 people in treatment and detox how others should refer to those who use heroin.

Scientists found that such individual's preference was that others called them "people who use drugs." Respondents said that they never wanted to be called a "heroin misuser," "heroin-dependent," and "junkie." 

"Persons who use heroin often [sic] complain about interactions with healthcare providers, due at least in part to the unfortunate language providers use -- which is taken, sometimes rightly, as a sign of disrespect," says senior study author Dr. Michael Stein, professor and chair of health law, policy & management at BUSPH. "Such antagonism can't be good for clinical outcomes." 

SLO County Opioid Use Disorder Treatment

We invite adults who are struggling with alcohol or substance use disorders to reach out to The Haven at Pismo. We offer a safe and serene setting to begin a remarkable journey of recovery. Our team of professionals relies on evidence-based therapies to help clients break the disease cycle and heal. The Haven is the perfect place to renew to your best today.