There is one subject around addiction that many people don’t think about, the words we use to describe addicts. Druggie, junkie, drunk, and Wine-O are all hurtful words sometimes used to describe people struggling with addiction. Many people don’t think twice about using these types of terms to represent another person. However, they are an extremely derogatory way of describing someone who is dealing with a serious and life-threatening habit such as addiction. Nobody grows up planning to become addicted; It is usually not something that anyone thinks will happen to them.
I am not advocating allowing someone with an addiction to continue on their self-destructive path. When it comes to addiction, activation does much more harm than good. However, I do support treating people with addiction problems or in recovery with the dignity and respect that every person deserves. Talking derogatory about addicts perpetuates the problem in this way:
1. People are less likely to ask for help.
When someone feels like they are being judged and are looking down on something they are struggling with, they are less likely to ask for help. Nobody wants to be treated badly or verbally abused, and if people are treated like this, they will most likely stop talking to whoever does it. If we treat people with addiction problems with dignity and respect, they will be more inclined to seek help when they are ready to change.
2. Family members receive less support.
Family members of people dealing with drug problems need support just as much as an addict does. Addiction is a condition that harms an entire family. An addict’s family will suffer just as much as the addict, and in some ways even more. When people make derogatory comments about addicts, their family members are less likely to open up about their struggles. If someone is unwilling to open up about their problems, they will get less help and support that they need most.
3. The general public shows less compassion.
Society tends to look down on addicts and people with a history of addiction. The stigma surrounding this subject is something that inadvertently perpetuated the cycle of addiction. When communities look down on certain people, they often get stuck in the very state they are being demeaned to.
4. People are more likely to die from an overdose.
When people get less help with an addiction, they are more likely to overdose. Because the longer a drug use continues, the higher the likelihood that an overdose will occur. Death from drug overdose is one of the many reasons why it is so important that we as a society work to end the stigma attached to this condition.
5. People share their stories less often.
It’s hard to open up about your past knowing that people will judge you for it and make derogatory comments. The thing is, people who are stuck in an addiction need to hear the stories of people who are in recovery. It is the people in recovery who are best able to inspire others to sober up. When people in recovery are unable to open up and tell their stories, the people who are still in the addiction suffer.
6. The overall burden on society will continue to increase.
Addiction is something that weighs on society as a whole. No matter what many people like to say, the addiction epidemic is everyone’s problem. Just as it harms society as a whole, helping people sober up and change their lives will also have a positive impact on entire communities. When addicts can recover from their addiction, our entire society benefits. The more people we contribute to the community, the better off we will all be.
7. Family addiction cycles are more likely to persist.
When people cannot or do not want to ask for help, the likelihood of familial addiction cycles increases exponentially. Children growing up in families with active addiction have many consequences for their parents’ drug use. Often times, children who see their parents using drugs are using drugs themselves. If we are ever to end intergenerational cycles of addiction, we must end the stigma of addiction healing. The only way to help more people sober up is to make recovery acceptable.
8. The likelihood of relapse increases.
When someone is ashamed of being in recovery, they are less likely to develop a solid support system. A person who is in recovery and does not have a reliable support system is at higher risk of relapse than someone who has had supportive relationships in their lifetime. People in addiction healing need to talk to other people about their recovery without fear of being judged for past mistakes. We all have things in our past that we are not proud of, whether or not we have an addiction history. Looking at past mistakes doesn’t help fix problems.
9. Opportunities for learning and growth are lost.
People can best learn from each other when we open up and share our experiences. Some of the most instructive experiences in my life have been speaking to someone who thinks differently than me or who has had a similarly challenging experience as me. People are only willing to open up and share such experiences where mutual respect is justified. If we don’t take into account other people’s experiences and feelings, we end up excluding them and missing a moment that could open our eyes to ourselves.
10. The chance for the world to be a better place is diminishing.
Addiction is something that tears families apart. It harms society and destroys life. There is nothing wrong with not liking addiction and wanting it to go away. However, we need to remember that behind every addiction there is a person who is hurt and in need of serious help. When we remember to be compassionate towards other people’s struggles, we can help them. By helping addicts overcome their addictions and regain control of their lives, we are also helping to make the world a better place. Every life is essential and full of possibilities, regardless of past mistakes.
No matter what someone says, people who deal with addiction are still people who deserve empathy and compassion. We are all trying to find our way through life here and times are not always easy. A little kindness and understanding can go a long way in making the world a better place. Words have power; they can inspire and heal, or they can hurt and destroy, so let’s choose our words wisely.