Is it appropriate to use the word 'addict'? Readers respond

Drug abuse concept., overdose asian female drug addict use syringe injection narcotic to her hand., in scary abandoned building., In dark tone.
If we don’t call those who suffer from addictions “addicts,” what should we call them?

We’ve been talking a lot in our newsroom about whether it’s OK to use the word addict to describe people who are fighting addiction.

Some, like Morgan Zalot, say the word is dehumanizing. After all, you don’t refer to a sick person as a “cancer,” she wrote.

But others, like Helen Ubiñas, are fed up with this discussion. Where was all this hand-wringing over language when nonwhite people were dying from addiction, she wonders. And Kevin Riordan says using specific words, like alcoholic and addict, have been important to his own recovery from addiction.

It’s a tough topic, especially as the opioid crisis continues to tear through Philadelphia. We polled readers to see how they felt. Overwhelmingly, most of the readers polled agreed the word addict is an appropriate term when referring to people who are suffering from the disease of addiction.

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We asked readers to weigh in.


Many readers, like Brendan from Mayfair, wrote in to echo Riordan’s sentiment about language being part of the healing process. He wrote:

“I am [a] recovering drug addict and you are always [an] addict for [the] rest of your life and the second you doubt that you are not an addict is [the] second you are opening up yourself to use again. You need [to] remember who you are and what you were at all times to recover.”

David Hodges from Collingswood wrote in with a similar sentiment:

“The first step to addressing a problem is to name and claim it.”

However, other readers, including Maureen from Northeast Philadelphia, felt the term doesn’t do justice to her beloved son-in-law, who suffered with addiction. She wrote:

“My son-in-law died of an overdose, hooked after getting painkillers for an accident. He was a son, a brother, a husband, and a father to six daughters. These are the words we remember him by. Not an addict, our loved one.”

Robert Ashford also shared his personal story in response to the question about language:

“As a person in long-term recovery, and a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania focused on the linguistic implications of behavioral health labels, the notion that language change has come on the heels of the opioid crisis is a fallacy. (It has been researched long before.) The facts don’t lie. Terms like abuse, addict, clean/dirty have a measurable negative impact.”

Craig from Point Breeze wrote in to say that labels can hinder recovery:

“Does a woman who has battled breast cancer call themselves cancerous as a label to be known as by others? Reducing another human being down to a one-word term that implies the person has compulsive behaviors and lack of ability to stop a destructive behavior/habit does not seem to be conducive to the person’s recovery nor to have his or her identity attached to a destructive behavior in which they may be trying to better themselves. A person who suffers from addiction deserves the opportunity to not be identified by a term that could cause others to stereotype, discriminate, or label in a derogatory manner.”

In his own personal story, Jeffrey Phillips from Philadelphia, wrote:

Addict, addicted, whatever word you choose to describe an individual caught up doesn’t matter. I have personally been called a junkie, dope fiend, and much worse. I haven’t used heroin in over five years now and that’s due to my decisions. I reached out and got the help I needed. Call me any name you want, I know they are just words.”

Adam Boroughs from Logan Township, N.J., shared this:

“You’ve got to call it something. Come up with another word and that’s tomorrow’s great offense. Diabetic, asthmatic, epileptic, etc., are equally negative in connotation. Why? Disease constrains, challenges, and, sometimes defines individuals. Yet, there is a great positive potential as these ‘definitions’ give the unstoppable human spirit an opportunity to show something beyond resilience; a something that nurtures, inspires, gives life to others enduring similar trials. This gets lost if you don’t give it a name.”

Should the word addict apply to people with addictions beyond the current opioid crisis? This was something readers also had opinions about. Mark Metzler from Horsham wrote:

“Agree with the AP Stylebook’s separation of the addiction from the person. When referring to people who are addicted to cigarettes or alcohol, do we refer to them as addicts or as people with addictions? Same goes for heroin.”