“Just look at him, he’s a Junkie!“
What is the image that is conjured up?
For me, it’s a malnourished, dirty person, slumped over with used needles laying around him in the gutter of a city, side street. I grew up in the 70’s and this was what was portrayed on T.V. so this is my immediate thought image when someone says, “junkie.” Maybe you too have the same picture going? This person is a derelict with no future and a menace to society. One might say; “Whatever happens to him, he’ll get what he deserves…”
“She’s a drug addict!“
What is the image now?
Maybe not so different; a run down house full of food and drink trash, a couple of people strung-out… jobless and pan handling… maybe a neglected child roaming around. While these scenario’s may be realistic in some situations, they are not necessarily the primary presentation in life these days. Regardless, one might say, “Once an addict, always an addict“… as if that is the whole identity of this person.
I believe the reaction produced in the onlooker using one of these terms is one of disdain, disgust, and avoidance.
Words matter when we are talking about people who suffer with addiction. Terms like junkie, addict, user, or abuser have the tendency to draw negative images and thoughts about, and towards, the person afflicted. It fully places the blame of their condition on their behavior and lack of self control. Period.
I confess, when I found out my son was self-medicating and misusing drugs, I was hard pressed not to think of these images in regard to my own son. How can this be! Not my son! Not my family! The images and stigma attached to these words bred fear and denial and kept me from seeking help sooner, for him, and for me.
Even as I published the post, What it felt like to watch my Son become an Addict, I confess I used the term Addict to grab attention because it is the familiar and popular term used these days. And, because it is the term often used even by those who struggle with addiction themselves: “Hi my name is Bob and I am a recovering addict” – the mantra at every support group meeting. I stand corrected, the more I research and learn.
The words we use need to change with the knowledge we now have about the disease of addiction.
My son suffered from a chronic brain disorder and he misused drugs as a way to try and help himself through pain and suffering on a variety of levels. Genetically, he was also predisposed to this disease. All it took was one smoke, one drink, one snort, alongside his broken predisposed brain, and he was both lured and overpowered by the disease of addiction which kept him from being able to make wise choices, a lot of the time.
“My son suffers with substance use disorder”
What is the image now?
I believe this creates the image of a person battling a medical condition and produces the reaction of compassion.
Stigmatizing words need to be eradicated; They injure the person afflicted with the disease of addiction with a sense, or identity, of worthlessness and can cripple the ability of the family and the afflicted to seek and receive help when it is most needed.
Change is hard. But, as a culture, we must do it in order to save lives!
Every life matters because each of us has been created by a merciful and loving God; all lives are worthy of compassion and kindness and care because we are His created children.
So I challenge you to love those who are afflicted with addiction,
have compassion on them and use terms that correctly describe their illness and suffering so that they may see themselves worthy of help and seek it;
that others may treat them with respect and dignity while helping them;
and that you dear reader,
may do everything in your power to spur them on towards healing and a better quality of life.