Is it wrong to call drug users “addicts”?

Meghan Ralston, the harm reduction coordinator for the  Drug Policy Alliance seems to think so. “Addict,” she writes in her AlterNet blog on March 25, “is one of those words that so many of us use, largely without pausing to wonder if we should. We just take for granted that it’s totally okay to describe a human being with one word, ‘addict’ —a word with overwhelmingly negative connotations to many people.” “We don’t say, ‘my mother, the blind,’ or ‘my brother, the bipolar’,” nor, “my best friend, the epileptic, or my nephew, the leukemia.” “We don’t do that,” she continues, “because we intuitively understand how odd it would sound, and how disrespectful and insensitive it would be. We don’t ascribe a difficult state as the full sum of a person’s identity and humanity.”

I disagree. Stating what a person has, addiction, blindness, dementia or is missing a limb in no way by itself  is insulting or insensitive; it is simply stating what is. What makes it insulting or insensitive is the way in which it is said, and that has to do with intention.

I am an alcohol addict. Though I haven’t had a drink in 35 years, I remain sensitive to alcohol and other addicting chemicals, so I avoid them. If someone calls me an addict a mocking tone of voice, it is their problem. I learned a long time ago to feel compassion toward people who use “addict” to mock others. After all, like Rush Limbaugh and his ilk, they are saying more about themselves than they are about me.

Being an addict simply describes a condition that I have, it does not describe me. My job, and the job of everyone who has that illness or condition, is to heal from it and become whole again. To me, “addict” is a neutral word, like “blind.” It says what I have, not what I am.

If you want to read Meghan Ralston’s article, here is the link:

Signing off for today. Please leave comments so we can continue this conversation.


About gwpj

Originally from Seattle, I now live in Sapporo, Japan, where I write, explore this city, read widely, and ask questions about things that i see as important. I'm also an author, with three novels published ("The Old Man and The Monkey", "Grandfather and The Raven", and "Bear: a story about a boy and his unusual dog"). For more information about my writing, drop by my website, at
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5 Responses to Is it wrong to call drug users “addicts”?

  1. I read the same article a few days ago, and I understand what the author is getting at. I have a son who is an addict. I would never say that in my ordinary, daily life–he is so much more than being addicted to heroin. But, when talking or writing about addiction I do call him an addict, and it’s not meant to be derogatory, but as you say, a simple apt description on the thing that is crippling his life. l’ll be writing more about this on my own blog, so I’ll save the rest for there. But I’m glad you and others are taking up this conversation. It’s good to talk about.

  2. Rainee says:

    Excellent article. I agree with your perspective on the topic 🙂

  3. shaunynews says:

    Cool read. I was taking 20 pills 4 times a day for pain, was I an “Addict” My Mum takes them for her illness, is she? I love this blog. I am from Scotland as you know, drinking alcohol is LAW lol.. I don’t drink AT ALL..But I see it every weekend, kids going up town, breaking shop windows, fighting, fighting police and spreading sexual disease. and this, society says is ok. I do however smoke Cannabis (Not to be confused with Grass/Weed) for pain. And yet society would label me. What about the MILLIONS who depend on a weekend drinking binge?

    Great blog, thought provoking


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