Addict. Alcoholic. User. Junkie. Criminal. Crackhead. Dopehead. Stoner. These are all labels that have at some point been applied to people with substance abuse problems. Some of them are meant to be derogatory, while others simply sound like fact. But are these labels harmful?

Let’s consider some of the most obvious negative terms first. Junkie conjures images of trash, as though the person is himself nothing but junk. Dopehead and stoner both imply that an individual is brainless, that all of his cells have been fried by drugs. Some people label all drug users criminals, and while it is true that most addictive drugs – excepting prescription medications, alcohol, and sometimes marijuana – are illegal, the word criminal implies someone with moral failings. All of these terms come from a place of judgment, as though the person saying them is somehow superior to the individual who “allowed” himself to become addicted. These labels do nothing but allow those standing in judgment to feel better about themselves by putting down people who are already vulnerable.

Even the term substance abuse is somewhat strange. It’s the politically correct term, but at the same time, the word abuse conjures some unpleasant associations. Child abuse. Domestic abuse. Sexual abuse. These are all no doubt very unpleasant terms, and labeling someone a substance abuser seems to lump them in with a category of degenerates.

Some people are against the idea of being labeled in general. For example, while technically a man who is sexually attracted to both men and women is bisexual, some people find the term stifling. I’m not attracted to certain body parts, is a common statement, but to the person inside. Or I may be attracted to both sexes, but that is not who I am; it’s just one part of me. Label me first as a man, a son, brother, friend, and lover. Similarly, calling someone an addict or a drug user reduces their entire being to this one disorder.

On the other hand, some people embrace labels. Perhaps that same bisexual man grew up thinking something was wrong with him because he didn’t think he was supposed to be attracted to both men and women. Then one day, he hears the term bisexual and thinks – that’s it. That’s me. I fit somewhere. Although an addict (or whatever you wish to call them) might be perfectly aware that they have a problem, sometimes putting a name to it can make it real. If by calling himself an addict someone is able to take responsibility for his actions and gain self-awareness, that’s a positive thing. This is why people at 12-step meetings will stand up and proclaim that they are addicts or alcoholics because they know that reaching a place where they can admit it is a huge step in the right direction.

If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504.



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