Stereotypes—Is Calling Someone Addicted to Drugs or Alcohol a Substance ’Abuser’ Harmful?

Man yelling at a woman

Drug and alcohol addiction has become so commonplace in society that even the most rural of states experience something to do with addiction. The language of addiction has been changing rapidly as more people experience significant exposure to these habits. No longer is this a criminal habit of the lower class. No longer is this an issue that only touches those in lower class, impoverished urban areas. This is a harsh problem that affects many people from many different areas. Individuals from all walks of life experience addiction, especially now that legal, yet addictive pharmaceutical medications have become immensely popular in modern-day society.

As addiction has become such a regular, commonplace aspect of life, we have had to shift our viewpoint of addiction and how we approach it. Furthermore, the previous methodology in our approach towards addicts has proven ineffective, so we have had to revisit that, too. Now that 24 million Americans are addicted to drugs and alcohol (more than half of them are addicted to legal pharmaceuticals), we need to strongly revisit how we approach and treat drug addicts and alcoholics. It comes down to a matter of stereotyping, and yes, stereotyping of addicts is wrong.

Why We Need to Revisit Our Nomenclature

Calling someone who is addicted to drugs and alcohol an “abuser” or a “criminal” sets a very negative tone for that person, and it does not inspire change or self-improvement. If anything, negatively stereotyping addicts predisposes them to more substance abuse, to more habit-forming activities, and to more criminal activity. The psychology of addiction is such that, when people abuse drugs and alcohol, they are more likely to adopt the lifestyle and the personality of that label to which they are assigned.

Now, this is not to say that people should just ignore the fact that addicts are addicts and that they need help. That will not accomplish anything either. Blatantly ignoring the problem and not giving it due consideration creates a critical condition where the problem never gets fully addressed. However, begrudging addicts, treating them like criminals, treating them like lesser human beings, and stereotyping them is not conducive to anything valuable either.

There Needs to be a Firm Approach, Strengthened by Compassion

Man and woman reconciliating

There is a comfortable middle ground where addicts can get the most help and the most direction. On the one hand, a growing number of medical experts and rehabilitation professionals are agreeing that we need to change the lexicon of addiction to one that is more compassionate and understanding. A growing percentage of Americans believe that labeling a person who suffers from an addiction as an “abuser” suggests that the person is struggling with a simple, criminal inclination. Well, addiction is a lot more complicated than that. People who suffer from addiction are facing a crisis and difficulty like no other, and it encompasses multiple facets and aspects of their lives. This is the sad story of addiction, and it is exactly why addicts need help and assistance, not punishment and incrimination.

The medical and psychological reality of addiction is very complicated. Addicts need nurturing help through inpatient addiction treatment that also firmly indicates to them a need for change. Addicts need to understand that substance abuse is a criminal act yes, but that they have a chance for freedom and abstinence from their habits through treatment.

Addicts need to be shown the way out of an addiction crisis, not simply reprimanded or punished. That will never accomplish anything. Care, firmness, patience, and compassion are the keys to resolving drug and alcohol addiction. We need to disband the age-old myths that substance abuse is nothing more than a negative life choice. We need to dispel the concept that addicts are criminals and criminals alone. Only then can we experience real, forward growth in our society.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.