Addiction and inappropriate language

“I am whatever you say I am.” – Eminem

Everyone loves a feel good story. When I saw yesterday’s BDN headline, “Maine law grad, drug felon takes Texas job with treatment group.” I clicked to read the good news. As often happens, the caption of the story differed from the headline:

It read, “Maine law grad, ex-drug user takes Texas job with college treatment group.”

So we’re looking to celebrate the successes of Christopher Poulos by referring to him as a “drug felon” and as an “ex-drug user”? I guess if you’re not knowledgeable about recovery it could seem reasonable to use language that way.

At what point does a person get to stop being referenced by their crimes and addictions?

How about we refer to him as a “person in recovery?” That seems congruent with his mission and how he would be likely to identify. How about we acknowledge that he overcame his past without making the egregious mistake of saying he’s an “ex-drug user?”

It’s hard for me to imagine a knowledgeable and self respecting person referring to themselves as an “ex-drug user.” If you are a person who takes medications or if you are a person who drinks alcohol or coffee, then you are, in fact, a drug user.

Language matters. It’s socially constructed and it conveys meaning. It has the power to  perpetuate stigma and prejudice. When we characterize a person, applying labels to them is arguably the most limiting manner we can employ.

I don’t give a damn about being politically correct. I care about reducing stigma.

I will reference Christopher Poulos as a highly successful individual, as a role model, as an attorney, as a kick ass individual and as a person in recovery. I respect people who overcome their pasts– I just don’t reference them as such.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.