How is an addict different from someone who has use disorder?
If your drug use has led you to detox, drug treatment centers or 12-step meetings, you are most likely very familiar with the term, “addict”. In Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings, members are encouraged to verbally identify as being an addict. Since the 12-step programs have been used as a template for medical addiction treatment facilities, you may be identified as an addict before ever setting foot in an NA meeting. I am proposing “use disorder” as a new term to replace “addict”.
Does your family call you an addict?
During the difficult times, your family and loved ones sought out help in understanding what you were going through. They may have gone to Naranon meetings or they may have spoken to addiction counselors or other “experts”. Your loved ones quickly pick up on the terminology. They remind you that you are an addict and that you cannot get through life with the same trust and respect that non-addicts get by default. If you think about it, the word addict is quite offensive. In a world of misunderstanding, misinformation and outright discrimination, you find yourself a victim. Addicts are treated like criminals and children.
What accommodations have been made for you?
Americans with disabilities are protected by law. We expect to find accommodations in businesses and institutions. Discrimination is not only frowned upon, it is illegal. For example, we expect to see ramps, wide doorways and hand rails in buildings to accommodate wheel chairs. Schools are expected to accommodate a variety of learning disabilities and psychiatric disorders in children. Have you been accommodated in any way at all by your community? Or, have you found that you are better off keeping your condition a secret? Many minorities and people with a wide spectrum of disabilities have found acceptance and legal protections in modern society. However, when it comes to addiction, we are living in the dark ages.
Addiction does not exist.
Narcotics Anonymous is correct to call addiction a disease. It is a form of mental illness characterized by changes in parts of the brain that impair control of use in particular areas. It may refer to substance use or other things, such as gambling or overeating. Yet, the word addiction is not used in the field of psychiatry. It is not, in a sense, a medical term. The current accepted terminology is “use disorder”.
There are many types of use disorder.
The medical literature defines many different types of use disorder. There is substance use disorder, alcohol use disorder, opioid use disorder, tobacco use disorder and many more. One important fact to keep in mind is that there is a crossover effect in which difficulty controlling use of one substance can lead to similar difficulty controlling use of another. That is where the generalized term addict came from. An addict must avoid all drugs in order to recover. So, why not use the term “use disorder” instead of “addict”. It is consistent with medical terminology and does not carry the heavy baggage of negative connotation that comes with the word, “addict”.
I propose we change addict to UD.
Use Disorder, or UD, would be an excellent alternative to the word, “addict”. Instead of saying, “I am an addict”, you can say, “I have UD”. If this change in terminology catches on, we will be in a better position to demand change in the way society treats people with use disorder. So, next time someone calls you an addict, feel free to correct them. You have a right to respect and to not be subject to the language of discrimination.