It's OK to call me an alcoholic and an addict, because those words helped me recover | Kevin Riordan

When I identify myself as a recovering alcoholic and addict, I am not seeking sympathy or applause.

I am making neither apologies nor excuses.

I am facing the facts.

Telling the truth.

Speaking of which, the notion that avoiding use of the word addict can help addicts feel better about themselves, and perhaps even encourage them to stop using drugs, is absurd.

Editing is not an answer to the opioid crisis.

It’s not “shaming,”  “judging,” or “labeling” to describe  people addicted to drugs as addicts. That’s what they are.

Addicts start to get clean and sober by acknowledging the facts, accepting the truth, and acting upon it. Recovery is not merely about words, but deeds. And we don’t get better simply by figuring out new ways to describe and conceptualize what ails us.

Well-intentioned euphemisms may even help enable addicts to continue evading the truth:  “I have addiction issues” suggests a certain, well, manageability.

But addiction isn’t diabetes. Those poor souls worshiping the needle in that deconsecrated Kensington church this summer are a testament to heroin’s unmanageability.

We addicts tell ourselves (and anyone who will listen) whatever lie is necessary to continue using — which, unless we get clean, is our only refuge from the awful reality our using creates.

We will protect and nurture the activity that comforts us even as it kills us. Not for nothing is addiction medically defined as a disease.

Softening or sugarcoating the ugly truth can actually feed the self-serving narratives with which we give ourselves permission to keep on using, no matter what the consequences. “I need to drink or use drugs because [fill in the blank]”  is a favorite.

I do respect the good intentions of treatment advocates and others who see the word addict as a problem. They’re trying to help as many addicts in as many ways as possible in the midst of an opioid epidemic that’s claiming thousands of lives a month nationwide.

This is why President Trump’s Aug. 10 declaration of a public health emergency is so welcome.

Like Gov. Christie, who heads the White House commission on opioids and who has long been an advocate for more treatment, Trump is approaching this catastrophe not solely as a law enforcement matter, but as a medical issue.

So I commend the president for calling the crisis what it is: a public health emergency.

And I believe we should call men and women who are addicted to drugs, and whom we hope to help, addicts.

Describing an addict as an addict is neither disrespectful nor dehumanizing.

It is not insulting and in itself should not define, confine, or set limits.

Instead, hearing — and saying — the word can set us free.

The truth has a way of doing that.