Words are perhaps humanity's most important feature. In fact, some say they marked our very beginning. And if a word marked our beginning, then a word most certainly must mark our end. That makes words the be-all and end-all of everything, including addiction. Where even the word addiction matters more than anyone every suspected.
That's the, er, word from the good folks at the Recovery Research Institute (RRI) anyway. And that's the word our colleagues at Healing Properties bandied about just last week. Why? Because RRI has not only pinned down language's capacity to impede recovery, but it's come up with a counteracting solution. It's called the Addictionary. And it just may revolutionize the way we treat addiction.
It most definitely will revolutionize the way we speak about addiction. In fact, we just may get rid of the word altogether. Especially once people learn just how much the word addiction matters to the recovery community.
RRI's incredibly keen (and imploringly useful) Addictionary is a glossary of recovery terms that should or shouldn't be used. It's basically a recovery-specific thesaurus. Only in this case, the euphemism one chooses to replace a word may mean the difference between life and death.
Yes that sounds rather drastic. Then again, that's the intention. Desperate times call for drastic measures. Like when less then 18% of addicted Americans receive necessary treatment.
That's the stat alright. Straight from SAMHSA. And America's vaunted Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration doesn't fudge stats. In 2018, 21.2 million Americans needed substance use treatment. Approximately 3.7 million of those Americans actually received it. The problem wasn't just a shortage of treatment options. It was why there was a shortage of treatment options.
Yep, you guessed it. We're talkin' about stigma. Stigma continues to be the biggest barrier between addiction and recovery. It not only shapes the way an addict is treated, but it also influences their capacity even to receive treatment. And that stigma can include recovery practitioners themselves.
Recovery Stigma Study
Healing Properties cited a RRI study where 200 people were asked 35 different questions in order to gauge the inherent bias between a “substance abuser” and one who suffers from “substance use disorder.” In every instance, the substance abuser fared far worse than the SUD sufferer. Why? Largely because ‘the term “abuse” often conveys the notion of control. Meaning the person is perceived to be engaging in willful misconduct.
Worse though is that participants largely believed the “substance abuser” was “less likely to benefit from treatment, more likely to benefit from punishment, more likely to be socially threatening and more likely to be blamed for their substance related difficulties.” The "substance abuser" was also considered “more able to control their substance use without help.” The person suffering from "substance use disorder"? Not so much.
Even more alarmingly, fully half of study's participants actually worked in the healthcare field. If 50% of healthcare practitioners have a depth perception problem, just imagine the degree of bias lurking among the public at large.
RRI's Addictionary not only defines addiction-specific words and terms, but it also attaches a "Stigma Alert" to the most detrimental among them. It also recommends more "person-first" substitutes to help avoid inherent bias. For instance, highly-stigmatized words such as "drug abuser" and "addict" should be replaced with "a person suffering from substance use disorder (SUD)." While terms "clean" and "dirty" should be dropped in favor of "recovery" or "remission" (concerning people) and "negative" or "positive" (concerning UA tests).
Using euphemisms isn't a foolproof plan of course (nothing is). And it doesn't address the root causes of stigma (few things can or do). Nevertheless, if we change the way people speak about addiction, then we'll eventually change the way people perceive it as well.
Addiction Matters, So Please Be Nice
Dr. Lipi Roy recently took to Forbes to cite an exchange between Hunter Biden and ABC News, where the President-Elect's son asked the interviewer to "say it nicer." Biden was objecting to the way Amy Robach had derogatorily broached his "being in and out of rehab." I "sought treatment for an issue," corrected the younger Biden, "like many people do." Ms. Robach immediately apologized.
Roy's annoyed "because people with addiction, a chronic brain disease, are still labeled as failures by all sectors of society – from the media to elected officials." Biden's standing up for himself and correcting a journalist's language gave the good doctor reason to cheer.
She's not the only one to believe a better language will help people better understand addiction is not a moral failing -- and neither is relapse.
"Given the relapsing and remitting nature of the disease, it is not at all uncommon for patients to need repeated courses of treatment for sustained remission," explains Sage Prairie Dr. Emily Brunner.
Doesn't "repeated treatment" sound a whole lot better than "relapse"? Of course it does. It also sounds a whole lot better than falling off the wagon.
Recovery Boot Camp Addresses Addiction Matters
Recovery Boot Camp has been addressing addiction matters since its inception. And we'll remain devoted to the cause so long as there's even one person who needs help. We also know that the word addiction matters -- not just as a condition, but also as a label. And its stigma continues to prevent people from receiving the help they so desperately need. Since RRI's Addictionary aims to change that, we're wholeheartedly on their side. Even if the change comes only one word at a time.
If words marked the beginning, then they must also mark the end. And if in fact they are the be-all and end-all of everything, then they can also be the be-all that ends-all stigma. Why not? Words got us here in the first place. They can certainly get us out. In fact, they must. Because words too often mean the difference between recovery and relapse.
Speaking of which... How are you doing? Are you weathering the pandemic okay? How about your friends and family? How are they faring? Remember, there's no shame in seeking treatment -- for any disease. That's why we have treatment. To help people recover from what ails them. So, if something is ailing you, please make a call. Get the help you deserve. And don't let anyone say a word against it.
(Image courtesy the good folks at Needpix -- with great gratitude!)