How Language Can Make or Break the Healing Process

Despite the wide range of health concerns that addiction can pose when it is left untreated, there are several barriers that keep individuals from accessing and participating in treatment services. For example, consider stigma. Contrary to what a person may believe, stigma is more than the intentional judgment of a person or group. Oftentimes, habitual patterns of language can perpetuate harmful stereotypes related to those with addiction. Moreover, recognizing the impact of language on a person’s healing process is paramount for facilitating treatment entry and lasting recovery.

Understanding Addiction Stigma and Stigmatizing Language

Stigma is a broad term that encompasses harmful labeling, stereotyping, and discriminatory behavior toward a person or group. Unfortunately, there is a long history of stigma for individuals with addiction and other mental health disorders. For instance, individuals with depression are often labeled as “lazy” or “emotionless.” On the other hand, individuals with addiction are often labeled as “dangerous” or “unpredictable,” alongside a variety of other harmful terms.

As sad as it may sound, most individuals who perpetuate stigma are doing so out of pure habit and/or conditioning. Perhaps they adopted these hurtful and inaccurate stigmas from their parents, friends, or other loved ones. The truth is, the stigma that surrounds addiction and mental health disorders originally developed from a combination of fear, misinformation, and a lack of education. Moreover, in today’s day and age, experts recognize that addiction and substance use disorder (SUD) are legitimate medical conditions that can be managed with treatment.

Damaging Effects of Stigma on the Healing Process

The National Insititute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) highlights three consequences of stigma:

  • Feeling stigmatized can reduce the willingness of individuals with SUD to seek treatment.
  • Stigmatizing views of people with SUD are common; this stereotyping can lead others to feel pity, fear, anger, and a desire for social distance from people with an SUD.
  • Stigmatizing language can negatively influence health care provider perceptions of people with SUD, which can impact the care they provide.

Unfortunately, stigma can act as a barrier to treatment, facilitate unhealthy perceptions of normal human problems, and negatively influence otherwise effective care. For these reasons and more, individuals must work to dispel stigma when it surfaces in their lives.

How Stigmatizing Language Can Hinder an Individual’s Healing Process

In addition to hurtful biases, the language people use to discuss addiction also plays an undeniable role in perpetuating stigma. There are many sabotaging phrases that are still frequently used in modern-day discussions about substance abuse and addiction. For example, consider the following:

  • “Addict”
  • “User”
  • “Junkie”
  • “Alcoholic”
  • “Drunk”

The aforementioned terms display that a person “is” a problem, rather than “has” a problem. Moreover, these terms elicit negative connotations and place direct blame on an individual. It is known that SUD and addiction often develop from factors outside of our a person’s control. Additionally, experts also know that the use of stigmatizing language can contribute to the three consequences of stigma mentioned earlier. For this reason, it is imperative to change the language that one uses to discuss addiction and mental health.

The Benefits of Using Healing Language

In an effort to reduce stigmatizing language, NIDA suggests replacing the aforementioned terms with the following terms:

  • A person with SUD
  • A person in active use
  • A person in recovery

These phrases prioritize person-first language, allowing individuals to accurately portray their substance use challenges without being defined by them. In addition, these phrases avoid eliciting negative attitudes toward those who truly need help.

Affirmations Further the Healing Process

The way one talks to themselves matters, especially in addiction recovery. Fortunately, one can use affirmations to further their healing process. Affirmations are statements that help to affirm self-worth. When they are repeated frequently, affirmations can help individuals to overcome intrusive, self-sabotaging, and otherwise negative thoughts.

Examples of positive affirmations that individuals can consider incorporating into their healing process include:

  • “I deserve to be healthy.”
  • “I forgive myself for my past substance abuse.”
  • “I am closer to becoming my best self every day.”
  • “I have compassion for myself and others.”

12 South Recovery’s Use of Intentional Language for Recovery

At 12 South Recovery, we recognize the undeniable impact of language on addiction treatment and recovery. Moreover, we understand how stigma continues to delay treatment entry and participation. Because of this, we prioritize the intentional use of language for all of our clients. We foster a client-centered philosophy of care and utilize a whole-person approach to healing.

Because we intentionally use stigma-free language in all of our treatment services and programs, clients can expect to feel validated, supported, and encouraged throughout the entire treatment process. From initial assessment to outpatient services to aftercare, the connections created between healthcare professionals and clients facilitate a long-lasting incentive for healing and recovery. To us, clients will never be “addicts” or “junkies” – they are, and always will be, whole people who require professional support to overcome problematic thoughts and behaviors.

Despite what some may believe, the truth is that our word choices are often habitual. As a result, we may project stigma and stereotypes onto someone else without even realizing it. Moreover, we must learn to practice the intentional use of language when discussing addiction and mental health. In turn, we will experience a greater motivation and willingness to continue our healing process. 12 South Recovery is an addiction and mental health treatment facility that is dedicated to using language intentionally throughout the recovery journey. We offer several outpatient treatment programs and a seemingly endless list of therapeutic approaches to help you achieve and sustain sobriety. Call us at (888) 830-8374 today to learn more.

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