The other day I was on a conference call and we were discussing which tags and keywords should be included in a collaborative online database.
The terms “substance use” and “harm reduction” were both on the list. I suggested we add “addiction.”
Some other people on the call said that we don’t use that term anymore, because it’s considered stigmatizing. Nowadays we prefer the term “substance use.”
I deferred to their expertise and dropped it, but I keep thinking about it. Not about addiction per se, but about how and why language changes. We decide a certain word has become corrupted by certain associations we collectively attribute to it, and then we retire the word and come up with another, less beleagured word.
In some cases I can see it, but getting rid of a useful word like addiction seems pointless to me.
“compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal; broadly : persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful”
In my opinion it’s not interchangeable with “substance use,” because not all substance use involves addiction, and there are arguably some addictions that are unrelated to substances (eg behavioural addictions). There’s nothing about the word “addiction” that strikes me as value-laden or stigmatizing, other than that the thing it refers to IS stigmatized. Addiction is stigmatized, not the word but the condition. It doesn’t matter what we call it, the stigma will still be attached to the condition. And maybe we’re contributing to the stigma by saying the actual word for the condition is stigmatizing.
Do you know what I mean? Or am I missing something here?
Also, what happens to all the organizations that have the word addiction in their names? Will they all have to change their names now?
On a related note, I’m in the process of developing a survey, and one of the questions is about substance use (“How often do you use the following substances?” – tobacco, alcohol, injectable drugs for recreational purposes, non-injectable drugs for recreational purposes). I sent the survey out to a bunch of people for feedback before submitting it to the Ethics Review Board. Someone responded that the use of the word “substance” is objectionable because the only people who use the word are researchers and authority figures. People who actually use substances never refer to them as such, and might be put off by it. I racked my brain trying to think of an alternative word, but came up empty. Any suggestions?