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Words like ‘addict’ serve a purpose — to prevent people from trying drugs

There is an effort underway to change the way we talk about addiction (“A struggle to rewrite the language of addiction”). The basic shift would eliminate disparaging language, such as “addict” or “junkie,” and replace such words with medical terms that are free of judgment. The stated reasons for such a shift include the fact that people may avoid seeking help, professionals may treat people harshly, and the stigma associated with addiction may be exacerbated.

According to Dr. Barbara Herbert, Massachusetts chapter president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, “The biggest thing we trade in is hope. Our biggest enemy is hopelessness.”

Unfortunately, the argument only addresses one small segment of the population — those with substance abuse problems. But in fact, the vast majority of people are not addicted. Some of them, however, will be tempted to experiment with various drugs. And eliminating disparaging language could make such behavior more enticing.

Surely any public policy initiative should examine the overall effect of any proposal, not just its effect on a select group of people.


William Vaughan Jr.
Chebeague Island, Maine