My New Problem With Old Words
The views expressed here are my own and are not necessarily shared by any employer or educational institution I may be affiliated with...but they probably should be.
There is a movement to change the terms used when talking about addiction both professionally and in the media. I support this movement, I believe its premise to be correct. Words are powerful and positive and negative words have positive and negative effects on my clients and on myself as a person in long term recovery. This is not in my opinion, political correctness out of control. This is about improving outcomes for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. This is treatment on the largest imaginable scale and while all change is difficult and change on this scale is even more so, I find resistance in surprising places.
The most ambitious goal of this movement is to eliminate the words "addiction" and "addict" from professional vocabulary. In theory this shouldn't be too hard, "addiction" is nether a scientific term nor is it a medical or psychological diagnosis. The main reason for this is there is no agreed upon definition of the word. Calling someone an "addict" never made any sense if you follow the disease model. A person suffers from cancer, a person is not a cancer (outside of the astrological meaning) Someone is never called a cancer due to a medical diagnosis and being called an addict is never a compliment. At this point you may wish to ask "If you think these words are so terrible Ken, then why have you used them in every Grey's Recovery post?"
It's a fair question. The truth is it bothers me. I can name several reasons for my choice of words, but the biggest and simplest reason is so that people understand what I'm talking about. The term "Substance Use Disorder" is what I use in clinical notes, but nobody knows what I'm talking about outside of the mental health field. Even in my professional life, in individual sessions and groups I use the word "addiction" and refer to people in general and to myself as "addicts." I get tired of constantly educating clients about terminology and getting diverted from what I see as more important topics. Also I don't want to seem judgmental or paternal by constantly correcting clients language.
The second reason is something of an excuse, but the first is just laziness. I predict this change will be a long time in coming, longer perhaps than similar changes spurred by the civil rights, women's rights and the LGBT rights movements. In those movements it was the marginalized and oppressed population which demanded then drove the chance in terminology. In my experience so far it is the people in recovery from Substance Use Disorders who have been the most resistant to this change. Myself included. I've identified as an alcoholic or addict for eight years, I've found comfort and community in this Identity. But I think it's time now for a new identity. With that I would like to introduce myself. My name is Ken and I am a father, a husband, a chemical dependency counselor, and I am in long term recovery.
That's enough change for today.
"I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves." Harriet Tubman