Skip to main content

The Language of Addiction ... A Family Disease? Think again!

In his play Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare poses the question:  "What's in a name?"  He muses on the question by saying,  "That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet."

Well, I get the point... sort of, but I'm not sure I agree.  I bet if we called a rose a "stink blossom", or a "wailing tooth ache bud", it may not smell quite as sweet.  Why?  Because words have connotations as well as meanings and those connotations are what shape our perceptions.

This is not a novel idea.  People change the name of things to change the perception of things.  We've seen it happen time and time again.  Janitors became custodians, garbage men became sanitation workers, stewardesses became flight attendants and store clerks became associates.  What was behind all these name changes?  An attempt to provide dignity to positions, to wipe away old associations and start anew.

And so it is with the language used to describe addiction as well.  I understand the need to wipe away old perceptions of addictions, but I'm not sure we have found the right language yet.  Instead of "addict", it is suggested that we use "a person with a substance use disorder."  The idea is right, but we have just exchanged a two-syllable word for a ten+ syllable term which is a mouthful to say the least.  And "substance use" is not exactly a term routinely used by the general public.  We don't ask someone to pick up some "substance" on the way home or offer anyone "substance" when they come to visit.  "Substance" is a vacant word.  Though I have a Master's degree in English, I am hard put to come up with any meaningful definition for the word without relying on some outside source. 

I have a similar problem with exchanging the words  "relapse prevention" with "recovery management."   For me, recovery management brings up an image of a be-speckled nudge sitting in a cubicle crunching numbers and writing out agendas.  While I understand the effort to incorporate relapse into the whole concept of recovery and use terminology that supports the idea that addiction is a disease, language is communication after all and we cannot go so far afield with language that the ordinary man or woman on the street doesn't even know what we are talking about.

 Finding the right language to describe addiction may be a work in progress and I don't mean to in any way criticize efforts that have been made thus far.  However, there is one change that I do take issue with. While participating in Recovery Day activities this week, I found myself staring at signs that said  "Addiction is a family disease." I was a little taken aback by that and feel that it sends the wrong message   Let me clarify:  Addiction is a disease.  It may be a family issue, challenge, or dilemma, but it is not a family disease.

I was affected by addiction, but I was not infected by it.  Calling addiction a family disease seems to hearken back to the old idea that addiction is somehow caused by the people who live in the same household as the addict, that they are somehow nurturing addiction.  The families I know have done and are doing everything they can to help the person with a substance use disorder find help.  Addiction a family disease?  Sorry, but I just can't buy that.  And neither should you.


Popular posts from this blog

48.3 miillion dollars buys a whole lot of margaritas: Canada takes on Purdue

Canada reported 4,00o fatal opiate overdoses last year and movement is underway to seek settlement from companies who not only under-reported the addictive effects of opiods, but also promoted their product to physicians through "perks" such as lavish vacations. According to Andrea Woo of  The Globe and Mail (Vancouver):
"Ten of Canada’s largest pharmaceutical companies have voluntarily disclosed that they spent at least $48.3-million collectively on payments to physicians and health-care organizations in 2016, but critics say the figures are incomplete and fall well short of genuine transparency."

$48.3 million?  Even if it is under-reported, it sure sounds like a whole lot of wining and dining and fancy hotel rooms to me.

Perdue Pharma LD has already paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in civil and criminal proceedings in the US in settlements related to their misleading information regarding OxyConton.  Although Perdue has not made a submission of guilt in Ca…

Overdue or overdose: A librarian's dilemma

Those who thought the digital age would signal the death of libraries seriously underestimated the versatility of librarians.  Libraries have been diligent in re-purposing themselves from their traditional role to providing computer access and trainings to becoming a home for writing groups, speakers and clubs.  And now it seems that a librarian's role is being stretched a bit further.

   Those of us who live in small-town America may be oblivious to challenges faced by inner-city libraries, but a recent article by Annie Correal in the New York Times highlights the issue:  drug users are finding libraries a convenient place to hang out, shoot up and sometimes--unfortunately-- overdose.  In many places around the country, librarians are being trained on the use of Narcan, the brand name of naloxone, which is used to reverse overdoses.  Responses are mixed:  some are reluctant to get trained, citing their lack of medical background and issues of liability while others take on the…