The Language of Drug Addiction is Often Negative

kid depressed addiction

The language of drug addiction is laced with many terms that seem to be designed to scare everyone. Many words and descriptors of addiction make me cringe: “hitting rock bottom,” is a term I have written about before. Another term that I have recently been exploring and considering is “Tough Love.”

Tough Love is harsh. For a parent to do what is necessary isn’t “tough love” it is REAL LOVE. Real love is letting your child sit in jail (protective custody) when for only a few dollars you could get him out and spare him from the confines of jail. (Only to find them using again within two hours.) Real love is telling your child he cannot live in your home as he continue to use drugs. Real love is when you see your addict hungry, dirty and homeless, and you buy him a meal, give him information of people who can help and encourage him to seek help and not offering to “fix it” for him. Real love is selfishly taking the time to work on yourself so that when your addict has a “profound experience” you ARE able to help in the right way instead of just falling back on old habits of enabling.

Addiction is a disease. When we see a parent sitting bedside of a child with cancer taking chemotherapy, holding his hand, wiping his head, combing his hair as is falls out, holding the pan as he gets sick, we admire that parent and comment how much they must love their child to be by his side. That parent doesn’t love their child any more than you or I. That parent is only doing what they can and must to help their child get better; just like we are doing when we practice tough love real love.

Real Love is why you are here reading these essays written by parents and professionals who have walked this path before you.

Tough love is easy, throw them out and leave them to the world.

What words in the world of addiction make you angry? Share with us below.

Related Links

Moving Away From Enabling

How a Child’s Own Reasons for Change Lead to the Most Success

Losing Your Mind Doesn’t Help Anyone

14 Responses

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    Patti Herndon

    November 9, 2011 at 11:18 PM

    Another potentially stigma-generating term we need to be looking at is the “clean” in the commonly used phrase “clean and sober”.

    “Clean”, as opposed to…? Plus, it’s just so easy – takes no extra effort on our part- to say or write “clear and sober”. It is, after all, only one letter difference. That single letter change avoids the potential of attaching stigma.

    In addition, “CLEAR and sober”, rather than “clean and sober” is more accurate when taking into account the improved psychological/cognitive and physiological functioning that comes as a result of clearing the body, mind/brain and spirit from the effects of overload of alcohol and other mood altering substances.

    Stigma, attached to words, is sneaky. It ‘sticks’ like a greasy film -one that is not always readily visible. But, it’s there. And, it damages. We can work together in cleaning sticky, greasy stigma out of our communications -for everyone’s benefit.

    Encouraging all us parents to take a closer, more aware look at the language we use in communicating on the subject of addiction. Just because we’ve been using certain phrases and words for a long time doesn’t mean they, all, serve the goal of empowered communications, or productivity in helping ourselves and others feel hopeful and increasingly confident in the journey.

    Let’s use words that increase momentum as we make our way together.

    Addiction is the journey. Recovery is the destination.

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    Ron Grover

    October 31, 2011 at 8:44 PM

    Dear Mary,

    Thank you for you comment to my essay on The Partnership website.

    What you say rang true for you in my essay your letter is the same for me. I could have written your letter word for word. We tried everything that a sane mind would reason, this is the magic bullet, this will work. There is no sanity in dealing with an addict, crisis and drama without reason is the norm. As much as it hurts us we come to these realizations at our own time. There is no worth in destroying ourselves over the past mistakes of good intentions.

    As far as your son in jail. It hurts and it hurts badly for us. Knowing we could get him out with bail or maybe a good lawyer but what does that do for us. We once bailed our son out with the promises of “never again” and all of the apologies I am sure you have heard too. Less than 2 hours later he had a needle in his arm.

    Finally we come to realize that jail should be from this moment forward be known and “Protective Custody.” I have never been in jail but I would imagine it is bad from my son’s stories, it is uncomfortable, the officers are mean, it is loud, the food is bad and there are REAL criminals (as if our son’s aren’t) in there. But even in those conditions we come to realize he was safer in jail than roaming the streets buying drugs, dealing with people carrying guns in every illegal transaction, sticking a needle in his arm, risking an overdose, disease or death. Jail IS protective custody.

    Right, I know jail does not cure addicts but it can give them time clean to think and maybe reach a profound experience that addiction is not what they want from life.

    You do not have to do all of this alone. Seek out the help you need, Nar-Anon, counselors, therapists, The Partnership help line 1-855-DRUGFREE. Or you can read our personal blog. It is more about day to day parenting and addict. Our son has now been clean for over 1 year but if you go back to July 2010 and before you can see it is hard for all of us.

    Feel free to write any time.

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    Patti Herndon

    October 31, 2011 at 7:43 PM

    “How does support differ from enabling? One aspect of support–paying attention– is unlikely to shield someone from negative consequences. I probably am not making matters worse by complimenting successes or joining in celebrating them. It’s unlikely to cause harm if I take time to brainstorm alternative activities, take time to listen about stresses, express confidence in future success, or just listen to the ups and downs of the process of change.” From article by Dr. Thomas Horvath PhD

    More info: Dr. Robert Meyers/CRAFT

    What we choose to believe about ourselves, and others, largely determines we, and others, choose…

    In hope, faith and love…Lifting a prayer for all us parents struggling to recognize, understand and resolve our anger and resentments. May God help us, comfort us, guide us, and give us strength in the knocking down of walls toward the building up of bridges to recovery -ours, our children’s…

    “In making our decisions, we must use the brains that God has given us. But we must also use our hearts, which He also gave us.” ~Fulton Oursler

    “People need loving the most when they deserve it the least.” ~John Harrigan

    Addiction is the journey. Recovery is the destination.

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    October 30, 2011 at 11:34 AM

    Thanks for your blog. When I read your 7 Truths for Parents of an Addict and realized that every word, every syllable rang true in my experience (right down to the fond memories of my son in his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pjs). It gave me the strength to do what is necessary.

    My 26 year old son is sitting in jail awaiting trial and facing a sentence of 5-15 years for accidentally shooting his girlfriend while drunk and high on drugs. (Fortunately she has recovered and was not permanently injured.) His focus is not the damage and suffering he has caused, but how unfair it is that he should be punished for an accident, and how bizarre and heartless his parents are for refusing to bail him out.

    My husband and I have spent almost 10 years anguishing over our poor little boy, who somehow got broken when we weren’t looking. I felt responsible. I desperately wanted him to be OK, but nothing we did seemed to help. He ping ponged between mental illness (clinical depression? bipolar disorder? social anxiety disorder? ADD? ODD? borderline? mood disorder NOS? who can say?) and drug abuse, treatment programs, relapse and suicide attempts, counselors and meetings, bouts of apparent normalcy followed by more relapse, detox, meetings, and treatment programs. In a bit of classic enabling I kept on making excuses, clinging to any shred of evidence that he was making progress and changing his life. He held a job for a year. He held another job for a year. He went to school for several semesters. He went to counseling. He went to meetings. He swore he would never use again. And when things got bad and he relapsed he demonstrated his willingness to end his own life over and over again. But as long as he went to meetings and worked on sobriety we continued to help and support him.

    I wish I could have reached this point sooner, but I honestly believed that if I just kept searching I’d find a way to help him, discover that new treatment that would address his illness. I believed it was wrong to abandon him. I was terrified of losing him. I listened when the counselors and others told me to “detach with love” but I just couldn’t hear it, and I certainly didn’t understand it. In what sick universe is abandonment a form of love? I guess that’s why it took me this long to figure out that the only way I can help my son is by not helping him.

    So, we are refusing to bail him out of jail, refusing to hire him a lawyer, refusing to put too much money “on his books,” selling the car we made available for him to use, refusing to believe his lies, and refusing to allow him to manipulate us–essentially doing our best to help him by not interfering with the process that will teach him the hard lessons we couldn’t teach him. Although I have a shred of hope that jail and prison will teach him the lessons that I never could,the odds aren’t good, and I fear that he will not survive, or will emerge a better con, not a better man.

    In the wee hours, when I can’t sleep, I wonder whether this truly harsh consequence might have been avoided, and much anguish avoided, if I’d been willing and able to kick my son out and cut him off, as my husband wanted to do. “We crucify ourselves between two thieves: regret for yesterday and fear of tomorrow.”–Fulton Oursler

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    Patti Herndon

    October 30, 2011 at 2:55 AM

    There is, indeed, a lot of negativity in the language we use to communicate about addiction. Not just in the terminology alone, but, also, in the spirit of approach/advisements on the subject, in general. We’re patterned to this… ‘anxiety’ regarding addiction in our culture.

    Addiction is dangerous pattern of maladaptive coping. It makes a lot of sense that we experience anxiety – anger, resentments, perceived lack of control/powerlessness, fear in response to it… But, it’s a pattern waiting and wanting to be interrupted in favor of an increasing sense of hope and belief toward change. We can use hope and belief for fuel as we make strides in problem solving and increasing self-efficacy -yours, mine, our loved ones…strengthened relationships with our kids, and others…better quality of life. It’s a process. Usually, a long one.

    Words used about addiction, per se, don’t make me angry. It’s more that I experience a lamenting in what comes across, in a lot of the language I see/hear regarding addiction, as a lack of perspective/awareness/empathy. I wanted to take a close look at the language I was using to communicate with my son on the subject of addiction. As we worked on the family dynamic, I became a much better listener, as a mom….We all have. As a result, I notice we use more positive language when discussing addiction.

    I can be really difficult for us as parents to truly listen to the heart of our child when the choices of that child have caused us so many problems. It’s important to set healthy boundaries and allow consequences appropriate for growth…even more important to listen, truly listen to our kids as they struggle to change. As we do that, our language can be used to encourage and inspire self-efficacy. Their self efficacy, our own self efficacy = healthy coping.

    I’ve thought about this subject of language regarding addiction a great deal; noticing, over the years, that the negative associations in the language we use to communicate about it seems to correlate with the anxiety that hovers in response to the problems associated with addiction. Regardless who is discussing it, why, or when; the energy in the discussion, often, reflects the person, or group of persons, perceived sense of lack of control and the anxiety, (be it low level or high level),experienced as a result of that sense of loss of control.

    Good news is that, at the point we become aware of language/advisements that can impact negatively; we can, each, choose to make the necessary changes…as well as more consciously work to inspire and encourage others into awareness and action toward the same. We aspire for consensus…Consensus will quite naturally increase momentum.

    It makes sense…We tend to lean on the same status quo language, terminology, and philosophies that have been around for a long, long while -even if that language/philosophy runs risk of not reflecting our specifics, or the specifics of someone else’s circumstances/reality. In many cases we error when we assume what, specifically, another parent should or should not do in response to their individual circumstances. It really depends on the coping resources, strengths and weaknesses of the individual, the collective family, and their individual circumstances. We need to be very careful in language/advisements, especially if we don’t have benefit of fully understanding the scope of someone else’s circumstances.

    All individuals and individual families have unique strengths and weaknesses. Change occurs when we recognize and utilize our strengths for problem solving.

    We are better served toward problem solving/healthy change, for our individual circumstances, via others heartfelt, empowerment-purposed language/encouragements, and their empathic, reflective listening. When we combine this with our own dedicated, open-minded efforts to seek out information/education on the biological, psychological and sociological realities associated with substance use/substance use disorder, and, then, continue to apply what we learn to our journey we stand to gain a lot of ground.

    Real love, real change is always going to be real tough -but worth every ounce of selfless awareness and dedicated action applied.

    As parents we must do as much changing as our substance use disordered kid in order for true healing/change to take place …But, unfortunately, the lion’s share of language and advisements we collectively offer, and are exposed to, tend toward being limited to how we need to “allow ‘them’ to experience the full consequences of ‘their’ choices”. Certainly this is an important element…but it ain’t the whole enchilada.

    Our patterns of communication/language/interaction with our kids, over their lifetime, influences decision-making in regard to using substances to cope. They are accountable for their choices in using substances. And, as parents, we gotta be brave and do the work of learning how we can better interact with our addicted child in a way that maximizes his or her strengths toward problem solving for themselves/their circumstances.

    The more I learn about addiction and other mental health issues and how it impacts my own family, the less I use terms that, in my opinion, serve to amplify feelings of guilt, shame, and loss of control for myself and others.

    I don’t use the terms, hitting bottom, enabler, tough love, powerless or other common buzz words utilized to communicate about addiction. No one has the ability to define what these terms mean to anyone else or their circumstances. I have become more careful/aware of using the term ‘addict’. Whenever possible, I consider an alternative. Using what could equate to a label, that stands alone as the defining characteristic of the who that someone is, is not going to do anyone any good.

    My wonderful son: “People can have an extreme and/or chronic kind of challenge in their life. But, that is not the who that they are.” He’s right. We wouldn’t say, “My Diabetic…”.

    I’ve shared, before, here on the partnership site…that I cringe every time I see or hear someone refer to their family member, who is challenged by addiction, as “my addict”, instead of choosing something like, “my son/my daughter who is challenged by addiction”. I ask my son about this term a while back. I ask if it would bother him if I referred to him in this way… Then, I listened to his response.

    “More and more I am very cautious about using what equates to negative energy producing language in communicating on the subject of addiction. We do better to focus on utilizing vocabulary/terminology/communications that empower us to learn, change, and hope.”

    On building bridges instead of walls: As we choose to think and act in increasing awareness regarding how some one else might feel in response to what we choose to say and do -we connect. When we connect, we are stronger. We are not perfect…We are not supposed to be. We are, though, supposed to encourage, (rather than advise), one another along. As we, ourselves, become better aware, we can offer that kind of change-making encouragement to others, increasingly. We are, then, getting closer to individually and collectively putting an end to dependency on substances for coping…little by little, until it is no more.

    If the purpose, in using terms regarding addiction, is to earnestly connect in a way that serves a meeting of the minds and hearts in support of increased self-efficacy, change/healing; then, it’s clear why these kinds of terms have the propensity to interrupt that goal, for many reasons.

    We are moving beyond subjective, vague terms like enabler/enabling, tough love, etc., as we learn more and more about the biological, psychological and sociological realities associated with addiction. We are becoming more aware.

    Addiction is the journey. Recovery is the destination.

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