Module 1: Introduction & Overview

Ch. 4: Considering the Language That We Use

At this point, you have developed a general “big picture” about the topic of our course: substance use, misuse, and addiction. Throughout Module 1 so far you have read about alcohol and other substance use. You may not have noticed the language used to describe individuals involved with these substances or who experience substance-related problems. For example, you did not read about “substance users,” you read about individuals who use substances.

Social workers and members of several other human service professions have long been aware of the importance of the way we use language and the deleterious consequences of applying labels to people. In places where you eventually seek additional information on our course topics you may find that many resources use stigmatizing labels and terms. Not only do labels tend to stereotype, stigmatize, and marginalize people, they also create a pessimistic mindset about the possibility for change. In the field of addictions, awareness about the harms associated with stigmatizing labels like “addict” or “alcoholic” are discussed with increasing frequency. As the field gradually becomes more conscious and aware of this problem in professional writing and speaking, it is important that we all become more conscientious about changing how we discuss the people involved with substances.

Getting us thinking along these lines is the purpose for your second assigned reading, Begun (2016), Considering the Language That We Use: Well Worth the Effort. In this final chapter for Module 1, you will read about the importance of paying attention to the language that we use in discussing and describing people who use substances and people who experience substance use disorders or addiction. You may notice in the reference list a similarly themed article by Broyles et al (2014) that may be of interest to you, as well. After reading the assigned article (click on the link below), remember to return here for the interactive exercises.

PDF links icon

Click here for a link to our Carmen course where you can locate the assigned pdf file(s) for this chapter. You will need to be logged into our Carmen course, select Module 1, and proceed to the Coursework area. Under the Readings heading you will find a box with links to the readings for relevant coursebook chapters. Don’t forget to return here in your coursebook to complete the remaining chapters and interactive activities.

When you are finished reading this brief article:

  • Begin to practice ways of changing the language that you use. For example, start by simply identifying stigmatizing labels used by others when you are reading, listening to radio, television, or movies, and talking about social work issues in your classes or with friends.
  • As a next step, think about creative ways of editing what you read or heard to remove the labels and describe people in terms of their experiences instead.
  • Think about how this might make a difference in how these individuals are viewed and how they might view themselves as a result.

Stop Sign saying "Stop, Think"

Here is an exercise for you to practice these new skills. Imagine that you are the instructor for our course. First, read this hypothetical student discussion board posting and identify the 6 places where the use of language is of concern. Just click on your choices (some may be two-word phrases, others are single words) and see how you did.

Now, think about how you would suggest rephrasing each of the six problems. Here is one possible solution—many options exist! The point here is to practice the new skills related to the language that we use. Hopefully, you can better edit your own work before posting in our class discussions in the future.

I think that persons experiencing addiction should be able to benefit from treatment for pain, but health care professionals are worried about providing pain medications when there is a question about the actual need. It is kind of the same thing as giving alcohol to someone with an alcohol use disorder to make them feel better. People who misuse substances or have an addiction may believe their pain is worse than they can tolerate, but there may be alternative ways to effectively address pain that doctors and nurses can offer. Treating a person’s pain should be done with caution when there is a history of experiencing a substance use disorder, but it should also be done with respect.



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