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Junkie, Crackhead, Dope fiend: Is it ever OK to use derogatory terminology to describe addiction?

Addiction has many faces, touches all levels of class and creed, and has many names. Titles like ‘Junkie’, ‘Crack-head’, ‘Dope Fiend’ are thrown around, and other not-so-fun nick-name’s like ‘Drunk’ all create a negative mental picture for most people. The stigma attached to these names is associated with a variety of stereotypes that are typically considered as tasteless, foul, or degenerate individuals. So is it ever OK to use derogatory terminology to describe addiction?

Taking it Personal

Most addicts and alcoholics in recovery would probably prefer that someone who has never lived that life-style should never call them by these names. Calling someone who is struggling with addiction, if it is a friend or relative, coworker or associate, is detrimental to their self-confidence, their emotional stability, and their self-worth. People who are in the grips of a progressive illness like alcoholism or drug addiction are usually dealing with a variety of internal conflicts, and by using those terms to identify them people are giving the suffering individual another reason to buy into the stigma.

It can create hostility and resentment in relationships if a person takes these personally, and it can cause an addict or alcoholic to regress in their recovery if they feel they cannot escape their past. For those who have not dealt first hand with this illness it is poor character to ridicule the addict or alcoholic, active or recovering, when they most likely have a hard enough time facing the issue on their own terms.

Letting the Derogatory Define You

For those of us in recovery, there can be different results on our mentality based on these names. It can be harmful to our progression through life and through our relationships to be subjected to these names from our peers. Playful or not, these names can subconsciously find a home in our minds, and develop into the image of ourselves we have in our own head that traps us in that stigma.

If we are labeled by those we are surrounded by, or even if we label ourselves as the ‘Junkie’ or the ‘Drunk’, we may not even realize the way we adopt that as our true self. That idea that we will always be looked at as the ‘Crack-head’ or the ‘Wino’ can keep us from striving to be more. It’s possible that if we cannot let go of the ‘Junkie’ title it will only be harder to let go of that ‘Junkie’ mind-state. It is said we are capable of us much we believe we can accomplish, so if we promote the stereotype of a ‘Dope Fiend’ in our lives, are we only setting ourselves up for failure? Are we convincing ourselves and others every day that we are only as good as our ‘glory days’ and promoting that idea in others like us? In this respect we have to decide what is OK for the individual.

Using Insults as Instruments

Then there is the other side of the coin, where we as recovering alcoholics and addicts use names like ‘Junkie’ and ‘Drunk’ as tools to carry the message or sobriety by humbly remembering where we came from. As strange as it may sound, it can be used to empower others early in recovery who struggle with the concept of ever being able to live a life worth living after experiencing the life on the path of self-destruction.

When speaking with other addicts and alcoholics, I sometimes refer to myself as a ‘Drunk’ or a ‘Junkie’ to relate to those who have struggled with their substance abuse, and to show them that I can remember a time where during active alcoholism and addiction I was called by these names, and believed these names defined me as a person. There are few positives attached to these names, but in sobriety and when speaking to others in recovery these derogatory names can be used as instruments of inspiration when wielded properly.

When I tell others that I went from being a ‘Junkie’ or a ‘Drunk’ I do so to shake the assumption that these names mean we cannot be more than what those names suggest. To try and take the sting out of the stigma, I identify with my past and I explain how I ignored the stereotypes and accepted who I was beyond these names. I believe it keeps me humble in a way to remember where I come from and what I’ve done, but it gives me strength to know and share how I have over-come that. These sticks and stones can no longer break me, and I know I am not defined by my addiction. I am a ‘Drunk’ and a ‘Junkie’, but as long as I stay active in my recovery that is not WHO I am, it is a just piece of the portrait.

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