THE BLOG

What's in a Word, and Who is the Addict?

02/07/2013 12:21 BST | Updated 31/08/2013 10:12 BST

I'll start with a bit of (shameless) self-promotion. My next book is scheduled for release in the fall, and it is titled: Dealing with an addict - what you need to know if someone you care for has a drug or alcohol problem.

So I use the term 'addict' to describe a certain type of person. Many object to this designation. For one, there is stigma attached to it. Furthermore, since practically everyone you know has been carried away at some point by some poison - exercise, love, sex, gambling, tobacco, coffee, food, booze, dope, work - some object that everyone is (or has been) an addict. Hence, according to some, the label is meaningless.

Interesting, though, how a designation can at once be stigmatizing and meaningless.

Those more familiar with my work know that, on the cover of my first book, I identify as 'crackhead'. A little cavalier, perhaps, yet it does pack a political punch.

But what are we to make of the stereotypical 'addict'? Images of unscrupulous liars, thieves and scoundrels come to mind.

But not always - as the image of a special individual confronted by a herculean struggle might also arise. Many do identify as 'addict' and find the act both liberating and empowering. I have one friend who hates being told not to refer to himself as an addict, believing as he does that adopting this designation is what saved his life and made possible his current sobriety.

Note how gays opted to reclaim the designation 'queer', and have made excellent use of it. Note as well how many black rappers have done the same with the N word. That's what inspired me to call myself 'crackhead', by the way.

Of course, some would object to the use of any noun - nouns can be very final, totalizing descriptors. So rather than call someone 'a schizophrenic' we can say 'person who has schizophrenia' or 'person with schizophrenia'.

But back to addict ... the term is currently in flux, its meaning and tenor changing as these words are being written. Since the 1980s, and all the self-help chatter in the media, the term no longer functions as it once did. Prior to that, cigarette smokers who admitted they were hooked did not consider themselves addicts, and would rarely apply a term such as 'addicted' to their rapport with tobacco.

But that has changed, and in my next book I invoke the term 'addict'. Despite all of its shortcomings, it is be best word I can think of. Alternative designations - e.g., substance abuser, drug user - are either too harsh, too timid or too convoluted. Person with substance use issues?

Please, this crackhead will stick with the term addict.