While it might not mean anything to most people, the term “addict”, especially when used to identify a person who has an addiction to drugs, is a demoralizing word. Since time immemorial, there are people who have the notion that it is alright to refer to someone as an “addict” when in truth, this is indeed a derogatory term and can be hurtful.
The Associated Press (AP) had the same sentiments that the word “addict” should not be used as a noun anymore. This was included in the latest edition of the popular AP Stylebook, the English grammar and usage guide created by American journalists and is widely used globally.
According to the style guide, it is recommended to use phrases, such as “people with heroin addiction” or “he used drugs”. This is emphasize the disease is not the person and vice-versa.
Why is it improper to call someone an “addict”?
There are several reasons behind the term “addict” being derogatory. Perhaps, the most obvious one would be because when a person has an addiction to drugs or a particular drug like painkillers, this means that he has a medical disorder indicated by compulsive use of drugs even if there will be unfavorable effects like impairment.
If the “person-first” approach is used on people with mental disorders, such as depression, bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorders, why is it any different from using this language to a person with heroin addiction?
Another debatable topic is on the use of the term “dependence” and “addiction”. This is also included in the new edition of the AP Stylebook in which journalists are encouraged not to treat these two words as synonymous to each other.
As stated earlier, addiction is indicated by a compulsion to take a drug and this can lead to impairment as well as bad consequences. Dependence means that a person who is prescribed a drug to treat or manage a medical condition needs to take the medication to function normally. Failure to take the drug can lead to withdrawal symptoms but this does not mean that this person is addicted to the medication.
This is also the reason why “substance dependence” was removed as the diagnosis for addiction from the DSM, psychiatry’s diagnostic manual since it implied that the two have the same meaning.
Treatment on People Referred to as “Addicts”
When journalists and newspapers use terms like “addicted babies” for those who have mothers taking opioid drugs while pregnant, this can lead to abuse and neglect from caregivers and other people who have this misconception. The ones who suffer are the infants who have nothing to do with taking drugs.
Also, not being able to separate the terms “dependence” and “addiction” can lead to a person not given the right medical treatment. Worse, proper treatment needed, such as, opioid therapy can be discontinued on patients who are not addicted to the painkiller but only dependent on the medication.
If more people are taught about the inappropriateness of referring to someone as an “addict”, individuals who have an addiction to drugs will not only be treated the way any person deserves. This will also make people realize that addiction is a medical disorder just like other illnesses and treat those who have this with respect.