Be Wary of Word Choice When Talking Addiction

Updated: February 20, 2024

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Just as I was about to pen a fun little column about being addicted to words, I ran across an alcohol and drug addiction article that made me want to puke. Not because it reminded me of the end of my drinking days when a morning vomiting session was par for the course.

But because it champions watered-down terms filled with fluff to describe the horror that happens when drugs or alcohol take you down. Don’t call it addiction, for God’s sake! That has such negative connotations. Call it something happier and fluffier.

This hit me hard for two reasons. One is because I’m a writer in love with hard-hitting words that tell it like it is. Addiction is supposed to have negative connotations. It’s the ultimate hell on earth.

Two is because I also happen to be in recovery from alcohol, and those hard-hitting words that tell it like it is have helped keep me sober for the past 20+ years.

Call it addiction and we’re instantly reminded we never want to go back there. Call it something like “happy fluffy, powder-puff land” and it’s only a matter of time before the brain starts saying, “Hey, it wasn’t so bad. How can it be bad when it’s called happy fluffy, powder-puff land?”

The article’s pompous headline made my stomach churn from the start: “When it comes to addiction, Americans’ word choices are part of the problem.” Wow. You mean those nasty, negative terms are the real reason drugs and alcohol kill 200,000 people each year?

Addict. Alcoholic. Substance abuser. Even the word “relapse” has been deemed too harsh and judgmental by some, replaced by much more kindly terms like “resumption of use.” Sigh.

Resumption of use into happy fluffy, powder-puff land. Gee, I wonder if anyone will have trouble maintaining their sobriety with this kind of terminology going on?

Advocates yelling the loudest for these changes, of course, aren’t even the people in recovery. Those in recovery are a tough bunch not afraid to face the truth. There’s no prettying up what addiction is and does.

Those crying for the changes are instead “a coalition of doctors, recovery advocates, researchers, and even government officials.”

There’s even legislation kicking around to take the word “Abuse” out of the names of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Now they’re not only trying to distort the language of addiction, but they’re wrecking acronyms along the way.

Once again, the mangling of things that need to be left alone is being led by a bunch of people who have no clue but know what’s best for all of us nonetheless.

There are a lot of those around, folks who think they know best when they know nothing. And others who want all words, terms and phrases to be neutral or painted with a positive spin. Sports teams need to have names like “The Bunny Rabbits.” Terms like “blind spot” and “blind alley” must be banned for their ablest nature.  

Give it a rest. It’s enough the PC tendrils have already strangled many TV shows and movies. Put the total kibosh on comedy. Created a thing called “sensitivity readers” to proof manuscripts for content that could potentially be offensive to someone, somewhere, at the very end stretches of the earth.  

Those tendrils have also consistently tried to transform our meaty and descriptive language into a quivering scoop of non-fat, non-flavored yogurt.

Let the language of addiction alone, free to wallow in its ugliness. It effectively reminds us not to go back and rejoin it. It’s never going to get any prettier, and neither should the language used to describe it.


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