With our nation facing an epidemic of deaths from opiates – legal and illegal - we need more candid admissions and truthful language to help others understand that addiction is a condition of brain chemistry and not one of character deficiency.
How I speak about a person or a problem reveals my own attitude towards that person and can shape their opinion, as well. What sounds kinder: “My child the addict” or “My chemically-dependent child?” What description creates awareness and understanding: “A disease of the brain” or “A lack of willpower and character?” Which language opens the door to treatment and possible recovery, and which language points to contempt and alienation?
I am not whitewashing the issue here or letting those with substance abuse struggles off the hook. Chemical dependency can give rise to horrific behavior—drunk driving, theft, fraud, abuse, neglect….the list goes on and on. That behavior is an outward manifestation of a brain gone awry, unable to let go of the obsession to use and abuse. But what do we gain by choosing language that paints and pigeonholes our beloved children in such a destructive fashion? And what do we lose by describing alcoholism and addiction for what they are: a brain disease in which the unrelenting demands of the survival center of the brain overtake rational thought and reason.
Language can be a powerful tool or a destructive weapon—choose yours wisely.