With a special issue of DigBoston on the streets this week with a package about the scourge of fentanyl and its horrific analogues, it made sense to address the movement in some journalism circles to adjust language around addiction and recovery. Specifically, one initiative, Changing the Narrative out of the Health in Justice Action Lab at Northeastern University, is encouraging reporters to avoid the terms “addict,” “alcoholic,” “substance abuser,” “opioid addict,” “relapse,” and “medication-assisted treatment.” In their place, crusaders on this front are asking that media makers use people-first language, like “person with an opioid use disorder.”
I don’t run with the anti-PC crowd or their needling nemeses. I call people what they want to be called, am happy to use pronouns as instructed, etc. But as a newspaper editor who cares about people as well as language and communication, and who has lost well over a dozen close friends to addiction and has struggled with substance abuse myself, I felt that I wanted to play more of a participatory role in this debate.
My goal in this line of reporting is obviously not to blame victims, but rather to call out complicit politicians, murderous drug companies, and law enforcement. In order to do that in the most responsible way possible, I threw the addict language question to readers and friends on social media. To my delight, hundreds responded and engaged in the most helpful discussion I have seen on Facebook since the 2016 election. I have yet to settle on some hard and fast rules for our style guide, but I’m certainly a lot more educated on the matter now that I’ve considered these and other informed comments. Thanks to everyone who talked me through this …
I think most people are addicts, either functioning, semi functioning, struggling, or recovering. There’s all kinds of things people get addicted to, gambling, food, sex, porn, technology, etc.
I find it odd to label people according to their disease/condition/illnesses.
If we can say, “I am an artist” and know that this may be a significant aspect of a person, but not the whole person, seems to me we can say, “I am an addict.”
The fact that it may be someone’s identity while they’re in the throes of addiction does not mean it is their identity.
99 percent of addicts don’t care if you use people first language. We introduce ourselves as addicts at 12 step meetings.
As a social worker, I use people first language to humanize the people that I work with to other people in the community.
Is the logic to humanize the person/individual more do we seek to help them or give them more access to help themselves? Versus dehumanize them and let them fall deeper into the cracks of addiction?
It’s similar to the language around disability. Someone has a disability, not so and so is disabled.
It might have something to do with the fact that people-first language has been adopted as a practice of formal clinical language by human service organizations who are late to the movement.
Addict is and will always be part of who I am. I sometimes use the term recovered addict when dealing with someone new to me so they get the idea. But addict is perfectly fine with me. To use an analogy: I’m a pickle, I’ll never be a cucumber again.
I’m not offended by that name or label … it’s just part of me … However … I would like to see the word junkie go away.
I use the word addict, I’m not dehumanizing anyone by saying it.
Fuck all these sensitivities!!! I hope whatever you’re writing tells the UGLY TRUTH ABOUT ADDICTION!!!
You are never cured from addiction, and treatment/ fellowship is supposed to give you a life outside it. I see no problem in identifying addicts as they are. Some people do introduce themselves as ‘addicts in recovery or ‘recovering addict.’
There will always be individuals who become the addiction and never want to get clean, but for those who get addicted and do want to eventually get clean then using people first language is the first step to addressing the need to treat the disease the correct way.
Labeling someone solely based on their use of substances is stigmatizing and dangerous—people are more likely to be criminalized than provided care.
Police will use the term “addict” being used as justifying police surveillance and BS drug task force operations.
If we don’t talk about this era of addiction from a racial perspective then people need to just shut da fuck up.
If only we were that compassionate about addiction during the crack epidemic.
As a 12-year recovering IV drug addict, let me be the FIRST to say that “addict” becomes your ENTIRE identity. It rules and owns everything about who you are and how you live. It’s not “something you do on the side.” It’s your entire reality. With that said, I get annoyed by folks in recovery who make their sobriety their entire identities. But that’s just me.
I think you just need to say, write, do what you as an individual thinks works best and hopefully the intent will shine through in the end. You will never make everyone happy on either side of an issue, but if you have genuine or malicious intent that will become clear to critical thinkers.
One thing that I think is probably true here is that the conversation *within the community of impacted people* is different than the best practices for media/public figures.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.