Does the word addict bring up feelings of shame? Or do you feel it is empowering in some way?

Question: I refer to my child who struggles with addiction as an “addict.” I question if the word addict upsets him. Do you refer to yourself as an addict? Or do you prefer a different term? Does it bring up feelings of shame? Or do you feel it is empowering in some way?

I appreciate this question, because language alone can make an enormous difference. I always try to be mindful when speaking of, or speaking to, a person who is struggling with substance use.

I remember at one time referring to myself and others as “addicts.” I didn’t find it offensive and felt it was acceptable to categorize myself in that manner. I found addict was a simple noun that was generally understood. But our words, as simple as they may be, can unintentionally increase the stigma associated with substance use disorder. How I refer to myself and others reflects my belief system.

By choosing words that remove the shame and discomfort associated with substance use, we humanize the person. We remind not only our audience, but also the loved one struggling, that they are not defined by their struggles or diagnosis.

I personally do not find the word addict shameful, and when others speak of me as an ex-addict, I almost find it humorous. My history with substance use is such a small aspect of who I am and what I have overcome. I speak with pride and confidence today when I share my experiences, and I encourage others to do the same. Today I do not refer to myself as a former addict. Normally, I say, “I have suffered from the disease of addiction.” When speaking to someone who is actively using, I say, “I am a recovering IV heroin user,” and when speaking to the public, I say, “I am a woman in long-term recovery.” Using empowering words removes the shame from our struggles.

My suggestion is to ask your son how he personally feels about the language you use. See if he, in fact, finds the word addict offensive. I can only speak from my perspective, but I believe if you ask your son how he feels, you may end up surprised. Good luck.

Yours truly,

Keriann Caccavaro
A Daughter’s Perspective

Disclaimer: The above advice is not meant to be construed as medical or legal advice. If you need professional medical, psychological, or legal advice, please contact a doctor, lawyer, or medical center.

Keriann Caccavaro is a recovery coach, drug court advocate, and woman in long term recovery helping to support people struggling with addiction and their families. You can learn more about her on LinkedIn or Facebook.

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1 Comment

  1. The words ” I am” are very powerful…what you say after those words are even more powerful!

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