Why Drug Rehabs Should Not Label People As “Addicts”

Updated on September 1, 2016

Clare WaismannBy Clare Waismann

Despite an estimated 23.5 million people needing treatment for substance abuse in 2009, only 11.2% of these individuals actually got treatment at a special facility, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The reasons for this are multifaceted. Access to treatment is limited, and many drug rehab centers offer inadequate services that do not effectively treat drug addiction. Additionally, many of these rehab facilities use the term “addict” to describe the individuals they proclaim to help. Moving away from the term “addict” can help effective drug rehabilitation facilities provide a more caring, compassionate quality of care. 

The Stigma Associated with the Label “Addict”

Many people writing or talking about substance abuse do not know how to effectively talk about it. The topic is often shrouded in secrecy and stigma in our society. As a result, people struggling with drug addiction try to hide their problem or avoid treatment. This sense of shame causes many people to steer clear of drug rehab centers, despite knowing that they need to get help. 

One of the reasons for this is that our society has an unhelpful way of conceptualizing addiction. The term “addict” defines a person by his or her disease. Rather than being a person in pain who needs compassion, an “addict” is someone who is broken. Furthermore, many people believe that once a person is an addict, that person will always be an addict. This further penalizes people struggling with addiction, who internalize the message that they will always be damaged or broken. Many drug rehab programs perpetuate this message, which is prominent in the Twelve Step program: you will always be an addict, and you must learn how to cope with the addiction.

Sadly, this creates a situation in which a person is offered defeat before they even begin to fight. If you know you can never win and will always be an addict, why even start? Instead, effective drug treatment programs know that addiction is a condition like any other. It has root causes that can be addressed. Additionally, with hard work on the part of the individual, addiction can be successfully treated.

Moving Past the “Addict” Label to Help People Struggling with Opiate Addiction

So what can we do to move past this habit of labeling people as addicts? The first step is to learn more about the language of addiction. Drug abuse is a condition in which people misuse substances — whether illegal or legally prescribed — and experience negative consequences because of their drug use. Opiate dependence is a medical condition characterized by physiological changes in the body’s response to a substance. This includes tolerance, in which more of the drug is needed to achieve the same effect, and withdrawal, a syndrome that occurs when the person is deprived of the drug.

Finally, we have the term “addiction.” Addiction refers to a behavioral condition in which a person engages in significant drug-seeking behavior. Addiction is often caused by physical, emotional, or psychological distress. This distress causes a person to use opiates or other drugs in an attempt to dull their pain. This strategy ends up failing, causing them to engage in compulsive drug seeking in order to numb and avoid their true source of pain. By engaging in medical detox followed by effective psychological treatment, a person can address the root cause of the addiction and break free.

To better cope with addiction, we must remember to use person-centered language. A person is not an addict, just as someone battling cancer is not “a cancer.” Instead, treatment centers should refer to their patients as “individuals struggling with addiction.” This places the focus back on the human person. Reducing people to “addicts” allows some drug rehabs to ignore the human behind the addiction. Reframing this language can help us remember that all people facing addiction are worthy of compassion, hope, and respect.

Source: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-statistics

Clare Waismann, CATC, (Certified Addiction Treatment Counselor), is the founder of the Waismann Method®. The Waismann Method® has provided the latest medical techniques to treat opioid dependency with a specialized and individualized recovery care. Almost two decades later the center has established a superior reputation worldwide for achieving exceptional results.

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