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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"Substance Abuser" or "Substance Use Disorder"

The labels society place on people or groups could directly affect one's life. At times, the perception peers place upon people greatly impacts one's decision making process, sometimes dissuading them from seeking help. The words we use to name and help us describe everything in life can bring negative connotations along with them, changing how we perceive and react. When I say that someone is clever it is one thing, but, to say someone is a con is completely another. The same idea applies to labeling someone an alcoholic as opposed to labeling them a drunk, naturally the latter has a more negative stigma attached to it. How we choose to describe those suffering from addiction can have an effect on one's willingness to enter treatment. John F. Kelly of Massachusetts General Hospital, the leader of a new study, noticed that health professionals' answers to survey questions about a hypothetical patient varied depending on the patient being described as a "substance abuser" or as "having a substance use disorder". The UPI reported, "only 10 percent of those who misuse alcohol and other drugs seek treatment. The stigma against addiction problems is often cited as a major reason for not seeking treatment".

"We found that referring to someone with the 'abuser' terminology evokes more punitive attitudes than does describing that person's situation in exactly the same words except for using 'disorder' terminology. Reducing the use of such stigmatizing terms could help diminish the shame, guilt and embarrassment that act as barriers, keeping people from seeking help", stated Kelly. This study is making public that which many in recovery and the treatment industry have known for a long time; how addicts are described or termed changes societies' view of them, thus keeping them trapped in a class of people that are less-than.

The study which is scheduled to be published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, distributed surveys to more than 700 mental health professionals who were at two mental health conferences last year. The study participants that were given the paragraph that labeled the individual as a "substance abuser" were, as you might have guessed, much more likely to agree that the individual should be punished for not following their treatment plan. "Our results imply that these punitive attitudes may be evoked by use of the 'abuser' term, whether individuals are conscious of it or not", said Kelly.

How society views alcoholics has come a long way with the advancements in mental health and our understanding that addiction is a disease that needs to be treated - not punished. Kelly's new study has shown us that we still have a long way to go, people still have very negative views of addicts and in a lot of ways view them as criminals. That modality has to be smashed!

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