When It Comes to Addiction, the Words We Say, Matter

Woman offended

There is an issue surrounding addiction that many people do not 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 when they use these types of terms to represent another person. Yet, they are an extremely derogatory way to describe someone dealing with a severe and life-threatening habit such as addiction. No one grows up and plans to become an addict; it isn’t usually something anyone thinks will happen to them.

I am not advocating for enabling someone who has an addiction to continue their self-destructive ways. When it comes to addiction, enabling does far more harm than good. I do, however, support treating those who are struggling with addiction or who are in recovery from addiction with the dignity and respect that any human being deserves. Speaking about people who are suffering from addiction in a derogatory manner perpetuates the problem in the following ways:

1. People are less likely to reach out for help.

When someone feels likely to be judged and looked down on for something they are struggling with, they are less likely to ask for help. No one wants to be treated poorly or called names, and when people get treated this way, they will more than likely stop talking to whoever is doing this. When we treat people struggling with addiction with dignity and respect, they will be more inclined to reach out for help when ready to change.

2. Family members are less likely to receive support.

Family members of people dealing with substance abuse issues need support just as much as an addict does. Addiction is a condition that harms an entire family. The family of an addict 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. When someone is unwilling to open up about their problems, they are less able to receive the help and support they most desperately need.

3. The general public is less likely to show compassion.

Society tends to look down on addicts and people who have a history of addiction. The stigma surrounding this issue is something that has inadvertently perpetuated the cycle of addiction. When communities look down on certain people, it frequently keeps them stuck in the exact condition they are getting looked down on for having.

Overdosed woman

4. People are more likely to die from an overdose.

When people are less likely to reach out for help for an addiction, they are more likely to experience an overdose. That is because the longer a drug habit continues, the higher the chances there are of an overdose occurring. Death from drug overdose is one of the many reasons it is so vital that we as a society work towards ending the stigma surrounding this condition.

5. People are less likely to share their stories.

It’s hard to open up about your past when you know people are going to judge you for it and make snide comments. The thing is that people who are stuck in addiction need to hear the stories of people who are in addiction recovery. It is the people who are in recovery that are best able to inspire others to get sober. When people in recovery aren’t able to open up and tell their stories, the people who are still in addiction suffer.

6. The overall burden on society will continue to increase.

Addiction is something that places a burden on all of society. 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 get sober and turn their lives around will also positively impact entire communities. When addicts can recover from their addiction, our entire society benefits. The more people we have contributing to the community, the better off we all will be.

7. Family cycles of addiction are more likely to persist.

When people are unable or unwilling to reach out for help, the likelihood of family addiction cycles increases exponentially. Children who grow up in homes of active addiction suffer many consequences for their parents’ drug use. Often children that see their parents using drugs will end up using drugs themselves. If we are ever going to end generational addiction cycles, we need to end the stigma of addiction recovery. The only way to help more people get sober is to make it acceptable to be in recovery.

8. Chances of relapse increase.

If someone is ashamed that they are in addiction recovery, they will be less likely to develop a solid support system. A person who is in addiction recovery that doesn’t have a reliable support system has a higher chance for relapse than someone who has supportive relationships in their life. People in addiction recovery need to talk about their recovery with other people without the fear of being judged for past mistakes. We all have things in our past that we aren’t proud of regardless of having a history of addiction or not. Looking down on one another for past mistakes does nothing to help fix any problems.

Young man alone

9. Opportunities for learning and growth are lost.

One of the best ways people can learn from one another is when we open up and share our experiences. Some of my most educational experiences in life have come from speaking with someone who thinks differently than I do, or who has had a similarly challenging experience to one I have had. People are only willing to open up and share these sorts of experiences where there is a groundwork of mutual respect. When we are inconsiderate of other people’s experiences and feelings, we end up shutting them out and missing out on what could have been an eye-opening moment for ourselves.

10. The opportunity for the world to be a better place decreases.

Addiction is something that tears apart families. It hurts society and destroys lives. There is nothing wrong with not liking addiction and wanting it to go away. The thing we need to remember, though, is that behind every addiction is a person that is hurting and in need of serious help. When we remember to be compassionate towards the struggles that other people are facing, we can help them. By helping addicts overcome their addiction and regain control of their lives, we are also helping to make the world a better place. Each life is essential and full of possibilities regardless of past mistakes.

No matter what anyone says, people dealing with addiction are still human beings that deserve empathy and compassion. We are all here trying to figure out our way through life, and times aren’t always easy. A little kindness and understanding can go a long way towards making the world a better place. Words have power; they can inspire and heal, or they can hurt and destroy, so let’s chose our words wisely.

Reviewed by Matt Hawk, BS, CADC-II, ICADC



After overcoming her own addiction in 2012 Julie went on to become certified as an addiction counselor in order to help others achieve a life of recovery. She worked in the addiction field for 8 years and now uses both her personal and professional experiences with addiction as an influence for her writing.