We often say things to others that we wind up regretting, leading to the proverbial “insert foot.” Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can have many unforeseen consequences, especially when someone is at a particularly vulnerable point in their life. This situation holds especially true for individuals in recovery—at all points of recovery—but particularly in the early stages.
In general, we should be practicing mindfulness with the way we speak to others daily. Many just do not realize how much power words have. They impact us in ways that we may not typically expect them to. For this reason, when we speak to others, no matter the situation, it is crucial to do so with compassion, kindness, and mindfulness.
The practice of this principle becomes even more critical when dealing with others experiencing loss, struggling with mental illness, or in recovery from addiction. They may be more susceptible to the adverse fallout of our words.
The Power of Words and Their Impact on Addiction Stigma
Generally speaking, there are specific terms that we should try to avoid when discussing addiction in general. Certain words continue to perpetuate the stigmatization of addiction, significantly affecting those in recovery or hindering others from seeking their necessary treatment. Many groups of individuals have experienced stigmatizations for unjustified reasons. In all circumstances, these stigmas result from inaccurate beliefs or misunderstandings of a situation, or in many cases, a complete lack of compassion for fellow humans.
In the article on why words matter, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) discusses ways individuals suffer from stigma. Regarding specifically substance use disorder (SUD), people often experience:
- A genuine fear or unwillingness to seek treatment for their addiction.
- Clouded views from others cause people to distance themselves from those suffering.
- Stigmatization among the healthcare industry due to misuse of language impacts the overall quality of care.
These are just a few ways addiction stigmatization affects those suffering. The unfortunate reality of stigmas like these costs people their peace of mind, comfort in seeking treatment, and ultimately their lives.
How We Can Change the Narrative Through Word Choices
The first step to breaking these stigmas and the damage they cause is education. The responsibility for this is two-fold. It is the responsibility of loved ones to be open-minded about being educated, and it is the responsibility of those suffering from addiction to help educate them. Upon being educated, we must then implement these changes.
The NIDA recommends using person-first language in the article about word choice. The reason this is so important is that person-first language “maintains the integrity of individuals as whole human beings by removing language that equates people to their condition or has negative connotations.”
This concept is similar to the importance of holistic therapy. This modality works to treat the individual as a whole and not separate their personhood from them. Person-first language maintains their personhood through treatment, which is essential for a successful recovery and progressing to a world of destigmatization.
Aside from destigmatizing misconceptions revolving around this chronic illness, it is also important to establish words that should and should not be used to ensure accuracy. This concept is essential for clinicians. Whether it is for documentative purposes, providing accurate diagnoses, or creating effective care plans, using evidence-based language can all affect the entire treatment process.
Some examples of words that should be avoided include addict, drug abuser, or former addict, and should be replaced respectively by expressions like someone with SUD, patient, or person in recovery. There is a complete list of examples on the NIDA’s website linked above.
The Psychological Damage Words Can Inflict
Aside from the stigmatization perpetuated by improper word use, many psychological damages can occur from these words too. By communicating to someone they are ruining their lives, are weak, or will never find recovery, we severely damage their self-confidence and the way they see themselves. Many people with SUD may also have a co-occurring mental illness. For this reason alone, we must ensure we are mindful of what we say. There is no way to know how our words will affect someone else or their mental health and recovery.
It is vital to educate ourselves on the words we should and should not use and how they can perpetuate SUD stereotypes. This education process helps us be an ally to our loved ones suffering from SUD, and in helping them, we may be able to make the world around us better and more conducive to healing from SUD and living a life in recovery. To learn more about how to help loved ones on the journey to recovery, reach out to the Lakehouse Recovery Center.
We should be mindful of the way we speak to others constantly. There is no way to know what is going on in someone else’s life, what they are thinking at any given moment, or what they may be thinking of doing. This truth applies to people suffering from substance use disorder (SUD). Expressions like “you’re weak” or “you’ll never recover” are not only horrible things to say to a person struggling, but they can be irrevocably damaging to them. Especially when suffering from a co-occurring mental disorder and addiction, word choices and expressions like these can heavily affect how someone sees and thinks of themselves. Word choices also affect the perpetuation of addiction stereotypes and stigmatization in society. These stigmas cause people to not seek treatment out of fear of judgment or mistreatment from others, which is why word choice is essential to a positive recovery. To learn more, call Lakehouse at (877) 762-3707 today.