Thursday, August 28, 2014

Changing the Laguage

This came across my Facebook feed today about language and addiction. It was in the Science of Us section of New York Magazine online.

Think of the words and phrases we use to describe drug and alcohol addiction: “clean and sober,” “addicts,” “junkies.” It’s a vocabulary loaded with moralistic connotations. This isn’t good, argue the authors of a new editorial in the journal Substance Abuse, because the use of those terms can inadvertently lay the blame solely on the behavior of the person with the drug or alcohol addiction. And when people struggling with addiction internalize that attitude, it can undermine recovery.
My first thought was it reminded me of language usage 30 years ago as the AIDS epidemic was just ramping up and becoming really scary. The general phrase "AIDS victims" was often used at first. Then the AIDS activists decided that gave a bad morale to the individuals with HIV/AIDS. From then on it became "People with AIDS" or PWAs. It worked so well that I had to stop for a moment to even remember what we used before PWA. It also changed the face of AIDS in the country, most prominently for the people with AIDS themselves.

Victims is not what we want to make people with a disease feel like. That can engender self-pity, ongoing victimization,hopelessness.

I then put the two thoughts together in my head and realized the power of that insight. Dirty -vs.- clean? Drunks and junkies -vs.- people with addiction? The article even goes on to talk about the results of urine drug screens. For many years the phrase has been, a "dirty urine." (As if there is such a thing as "clean urine?") It is the difference language places on things. Dirty is bad- inherently bad. It is a negative state of being.

We have been working for years to change the metaphors of addiction language. We have been struggling to get beyond the ancient and incorrect moral judgements that we have often put on addiction and alcoholism. We have been wrestling with the greater society as well as the medical field itself to see the disease as real and not just some immorality.

Maybe part of it can become the language we decide to use. Even moving from a pathology to a healing language can help.

Here's a quote from another section of the editorial itself:
Recovery-oriented language refocuses the lens from pathology and suffering to resilience and healing. Recovery-oriented language also changes the discussion from one rooted in notions of one-time, acute treatments or interventions to one that appreciates the long-term modalities and strategies needed to sustain recovery.

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