Words Really Do Matter
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Sometimes people don’t think too hard about what they say. And sometimes that can have more serious consequences than one might expect.
Think, for example, about the kinds of words that are commonly used to describe a person struggling with a substance use disorder.
He’s an addict.
She’s a drunk.
They are abusing drugs.
He has an alcohol problem.
At first blush, none of those statements may strike you as particularly problematic. They might seem like simple descriptive statements.
But these kinds of statements contribute to the stigmatization of substance use disorders and the people for whom they are a reality. And that can lead to some negative outcomes for a person struggling with drugs or alcohol.
Forget About Sticks and Stones; Words Can Do Real Harm
Again, you might be skeptical that the ways in which you talk about substance use disorders can have any impact on anyone—especially since the kinds of statements we listed above are so common. Maybe you have said those things yourself, and you certainly didn’t mean any harm. That’s just how people talk, right?
Perhaps. But our point here is that our common parlance around drugs and alcohol has a tendency to misrepresent substance use disorders as moral failings and the people who suffer from them as unworthy of respect, compassion, or help.
Now let’s switch perspectives. You aren’t the person saying the sorts of things we’ve listed. Instead you are a person hearing others say them. If you are the person who is struggling with a substance use disorder, you may conclude that you really aren’t worthy of respect, compassion, or help. If you internalize that message and turn it into ongoing negative self-talk, you may well decide not to seek out the help you need—allowing your situation to become worse and worse.
Better Words Can Support Better Results
We suspect you have noticed our use of the phrase “substance use disorder” throughout this blog. This phrase is not only kinder than many of the alternatives, but it is also more accurate.
That is because a substance use disorder is a brain disorder. It is neither a moral failing nor a case of “abuse” in any meaningful sense (after all, a person using drugs or alcohol is hardly harming the substances). Instead, a substance use disorder is a treatable (though not curable) condition.
Reducing the problem to mean-spirited words like “drunk” or “addict” or “lush” ignores the fact that the person in question is suffering and needs (and deserves) help. On the other hand, calling the problem a “substance use disorder” reminds us of the humanity of the person in question—which is wholly separate from the disorder with which they are struggling.
The Case for Kindness
The argument we have been making about the inaccuracy and unkindness of some words versus the accuracy and kindness of others may rub some readers the wrong way. Many people are troubled by what they perceive to be “political correctness” or “wokeness” in language and just want to say whatever they would like to say however they would like to say it.
We get that. But we also suspect that if you are reading this blog, you are inclined toward kindness, empathy, and feelings of support toward those who are struggling. And we hope that is true even when the person who is struggling is you.
Our words do, in fact, have an impact on the people who hear them. Choosing those words carefully can truly help someone (including you yourself) make the decision to get the help they need to reclaim their life from a substance use disorder.
A Word to the Wise: The Time to Get Help is Now
When you are in the grips of a substance use disorder, the idea of getting help can seem difficult at best and impossible at worst—especially if you are worried that you will be judged by the people who are supposed to be helping you regain your sobriety.
We understand, and that is why everyone at Bel Aire Recovery Center is committed to providing compassionate care in an environment free from judgment. You can count on us to provide a personalized treatment plan that includes medically supervised detoxification, a robust rehabilitation program that includes identifying and addressing co-occurring mental health disorders, and ongoing support through our continuum of care. We can help you get sober and stay sober. You have our word.