Overcoming the effects of addiction takes time. While embracing new coping strategies and learning to navigate urges and cravings are essential skills gained throughout the recovery process, it is equally as important to address the stigma language can create around addiction.
Language has a profound effect on the way that an individual perceives themselves as well as their environment and overall recovery progress. Even similar thoughts can carry largely different connotations depending on the word choice used, with massive impacts on an individual’s mental health and sober identity. Identifying unhelpful stigma created by language around addiction, and making a conscious effort to replace certain words, can fundamentally transform feelings of self-worth and create a healthier approach to sobriety.
The Effect of Language on Mental Health
A person’s thoughts and words carry a great deal of power over their perception and attitude. Negative language can lead to negative thoughts, each bringing doubt, shame, guilt, anxiety, depression, and more into daily life. However, changing how thoughts are phrased can give them new connotations, making language a useful tool throughout recovery. The way a person phrases their thoughts can be either positive or negative. Understanding language as a tool in recovery can reinforce positive feelings of motivation, success, and pride throughout even the most challenging times.
Avoiding Stigmatizing Language
There are many stigmas surrounding addiction recovery. Overcoming these stigmas is crucial for effective participation in recovery programs. Words like “addict,” “alcoholic,” or “junkie” are all incredibly stigmatizing and damaging words. These words define an individual by their addiction and struggle, characterizing their entire identity by their use of these substances. In other words, all other aspects of their identity are ignored. The same can be said for defining an individual by mistakes or feelings of guilt and shame rather than by the progress they may have already made in recovery.
Whether a person is hearing these words or even self-identifying with them, changing these words is necessary for healing. Individuals must work to distance themselves, both mentally and emotionally, from harmful perceptions and judgmental behaviors. Addiction is a disease that affects individuals and families, but it is not a permanent feature. Those overcoming addiction should have the space to explore other parts of their identity and new interests. They must feel empowered to change their identities throughout their sober efforts rather than constantly be defined by past use.
Avoiding this stigmatizing language around addiction and incorporating new phrases can help each individual make profound changes in their life. Replacing words like “addict” with “struggling with substance use disorder” can avoid tying one’s whole identity to their use of drugs or alcohol. Visualizing addiction as a disease that requires treatment rather than it being a predetermined, indistinguishable part of an individual’s identity is necessary. Both those struggling with addiction, as well as their families and friends, can make this change to create a new perspective on both addiction and recovery.
Language can also affect motivation in key ways. Absolutist language, specifically, can be detrimental to an individual’s mental health. Thinking of things in terms of absolutes, such as something that will “definitely” happen or if something is “impossible,” can fundamentally impact perspective. Approaching recovery and thinking that relapse or slips are “inevitable” can compromise effective strategies, even causing an individual to believe they are hopeless. Others may jump to negative conclusions even before any actions take place, bringing feelings of depression, anxiety, and more.
Absolutist language makes it difficult to identify the nuance of any given situation and can cause an individual to act on preconceived notions rather than the evidence presented. Words like “definitely,” “always,” “impossible,” and “never” pave the way for these absolutist thoughts. Replacing these words with words like “probably,” “maybe,” or “could” can all introduce the possibility of changing these outcomes. As a result, such language can empower those in recovery to act in their own best interests rather than feeling pulled by inevitabilities.
Changing Your Language in Recovery
While changing language can profoundly affect recovery, employing strategies to actively change the way a person thinks or speaks can be difficult. Making a conscious effort to alter words takes time, as embracing new ways of speaking or thinking is a learned skill. Working alongside peers and engaging in family therapy programs can ensure that everyone is working to create the most effective and supportive language possible. Hearing others utilize more uplifting language in group sessions and normalizing the use of new terms can all ingratiate these changes in perspective in an individual’s mind.
Others may utilize journals to look back on how they think or speak. Editing and writing down replacement words and phrases can scaffold the necessary change for a person’s thoughts. Introducing new phrases and helping to identify problematic language on paper can be extremely beneficial for lasting recovery and growth.
Language has a profound effect on your recovery journey. We at Buena Vista Recovery understand the need to address language, alongside your other personal needs and goals, for a wholly transformational recovery experience. No two journeys with addiction will be the same. We champion the opportunity to customize your time with us to address your unique goals while addressing the role that language plays in your mental health and recovery efforts. We also curate a supportive atmosphere of peers and professionals alike to continue scaffolding new skills and perspectives through each stage of the recovery process. For more information on how we can help, or to speak to a staff member about your recovery needs, call (480) 741-9414.