Why I Don’t Use the Words Addict or Junkie
I was always that kid. The social justice warrior everyone makes fun of on the internet. In grade school I was sure to point out my peer’s insensitivity when they used words like “retard,” and yes, even “gay” as it would refer to as something that was stupid or undesirable.
As you can imagine, many of my peers were annoyed with me. I didn’t care. I had my mother’s thick skin. I still do. I might have been a tad misbehaved and pushed some unpleasant peers off the top of the slide when they would not relent in their torment to others.
No one’s perfect.
This quality in me did not slip away even in high school- and it still persists today; although I have learned to temper myself and choose my battles more carefully. I try to surround myself with people who are on the same wavelength as I am, so this doesn’t become an issue.
A slip here or there- fine. But never should these instances be common, or openly accepted. And of course- I slip up myself.
One person I seem unable to sway is my other half. He’s one of those social justice warrior bashers and believes it’s no one’s business what comes out of his mouth. I must decidedly disagree. (And should he ever be on top of a slide, I will push him off!) If it’s offensive, it’s coming out of his mouth. I can’t tell you how many fights we’ve gotten into because of his inability to step into someone else’s shoes.
But maybe it’s not that- maybe he just feels he shouldn’t have to change the way he speaks because he’s entitled to it. I can’t say I can understand.
Anything as simple as omitting a word to save someone undue grief, discomfort, or unease is a small courtesy we have seemingly forgotten how to do.
Until recent years “Junkie” or “Addict” didn’t quite pop up on my radar. I knew when people referred to others on the streets as such (because we have it ingrained on our minds only the homeless are addicted), it made my blood boil and I would say something. I didn’t have to know calling someone with a substance use disorder a junkie or an addict was pointedly dismissing their disease, but I did understand making someone feel like dirt was wrong.
Now that I am a so-called “expert” on addiction and substance use disorders, allow me to give you a glimpse into why I will never use the terms Addict or Junkie:
Addict Cheapens Addiction
Addict: A person who is addicted to a particular substance, typically an illegal drug; an enthusiastic devotee of a specified thing of activity
The problem with this definition of an addict, and why it does not apply to someone with a substance use disorder, is this: addiction is not a choice– and it doesn’t matter if you disagree, science has gifted us empirical studies affirming as such- it should be reflected those addicted to a legal or illegal drug are biologically tethered to the substance; moreover, touting addiction as an “enthusiastic devotee” would connotate the willful participation in the ordeal- of which would be clarified, should the initial definition of addict correctly reflect the biological and medical state of the condition.
Let us take cancer for instance:
Cancer: The disease caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body; a malignant growth or tumor resulting from the division of abnormal cells.
Why is it although addiction is a tangible, physical disease, it does not merit a definition steeped in medical science, as cancer is?
If we look to Addiction: the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity.
We loosely glean somewhat of a glancing inclination towards medical affliction with “condition,” but we are left without the impact of neurotransmitters on the body propelling addiction- nor are we introduced to the way in which the body perverses itself to contort and become dependent upon addictive substances.
Yet simply from the definition of cancer, we already know the disease is caused by the division of cells.
To call someone an addict is to misunderstand the disease of addiction- it is a pointed indicator those who speak the word have no grasp of its inaccuracy, painting them not only as foul-mouthed but woefully uneducated in matters of addiction.
Should that be the case, perhaps one should not say “addict” at all. But of course, they wouldn’t know that, would they?
Junkie Is Demeaning
If you’re actually trying to be unkind and hurt for the sake of hurting, then maybe there is no immediate hope for you. (But I believe there is light in all, however buried.) But if you are honestly unaware, the term “Junkie” is demeaning- you are essentially pitching one’s addiction in their face.
Junkie is meant to describe a condition, not a person- as per the definition “a person who uses illegal drugs.” If you were referred to as “hypertension” you no longer possess your own identity- you are solely defined by what is a biological condition.
I Don’t Want to Be an Insensitive %^&#*
The bottom line is when people use “addict” or “junkie” for the sake of inflicting emotional harm- or to belittle the opinion, beliefs, or thoughts of those with substance use disorders, you’re just an $%^&#. And I do not wish to join you.
Try asking their name.
In truth, I probably wouldn’t ask yours.
Addict & Junkie Dehumanize
One of the most compelling reasons why I will never use the terms addict or junkie to describe someone suffering from addiction is because these terms brand and dehumanize. You don’t see a person, you see an “addict-” someone who was “asking for it,” or “did it to themselves-”
you don’t see the person for who they are, what they’re circumstances are, or what they’re doing to actively change their circumstances.
And what if they’re not? It is not your place to judge. People need guidance, and they cannot seem to be caressed from it by those in their communities- and so they sit. The scourge of all, and misunderstood more than most; condemned for a physical and mental illness.
What is perhaps most frustrating about my job as a writer of addiction and recovery, is having to use the words “addict” or “ex-addict” in my titles at times. The problem is, many don’t recognize the term “person in recovery.”
That should illuminate how little the populace truly knows about addiction.
Both Terms Perpetuate Stigma & Ignorance
Outside of my own sphere of persuasions, there are forces much larger than you or myself. In continuing to use the terms “addict” and “junkie” we are further solidifying the sanction of their use- and by doing so we are not beginning the conversations regarding addiction we ought to be having:
What causes addiction?
What can we do about substance use disorders?
How can we mobilize our community to affront what has become an open plague here?
Without knowing the reasons why something should, or should not be said, we cannot assume our community, friends, families, or ourselves, can make a difference. Instead of throwing stones, you could be the one to construct a castle from the smallest of pebbles.
Without a sense of community, or responsibility for our fellow man, we will continue to remain disjointed and bitter.
What say you?
About the Author
Alexandrea Holder is a South Florida native working toward double Master’s degrees in Psychology and English. She finds the psychological aspects of addiction and mental illness fascinating, as both are prevalent in her family’s history. When not researching and spreading addiction awareness, Alexandrea enjoys sparring, artistic pursuits, and admiring puppies online.