Using the correct language to properly address someone, especially pertaining to their character and capability, is truly life changing. Sticks and stones can break bones, but it's not true that words will never hurt.
Is there one single word, only one, you would want to be described as, experience the life of, and be automatically known as for the rest of your life? Although you may see someone as useless, homeless, an addict, a deserving prisoner; each person is worthy of respect. Ask yourself first, what is the reason for another's season before you judge so cruelly with a choice. Your word choice is changeable when another's current circumstance may not be.
The thing is, you do not see the entirety of what goes into the making up of an entire life. How all our parts fit together and fall to pieces. So, we try again and piece by piece, we rebuild ourselves. How beautiful life is, only to be diminished by being called only one noun.
Often times, it's a sign of simple respect or disrespect in the way we address people. That noun can feel as though it describes an entire life when used in a negative connotation. Sticks and stones can break bones, but it's not true that words will never hurt. An addict is not a crackhead or even an addict. Rather, they're a person suffering from an addiction.
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is a "chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry"(1). Addictions described "by [the] inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problem"(ASAM 1). ASAM.org
Some things you can do immediately to gain perspective are rather simple. First, remember people are not defined by the fact that they suffer from an addiction, a disease according to the ASAM. This ultimately is a step you can take part in towards solving the issue of how addition is addressed by society. Next steps are:
Start Correcting Yourself and Others Language
Remember that a person is more than one thing, so be careful with how you choose to address them. A person suffering from an addiction is not an addict, crackhead, or anything less than a human being. They're fighting a serious medical condition. Most would never consider calling a cancer patient less than a fighter or inspiration.
Attend an AA/NA Meeting
You'll get the personal scoop on what living with an addiction is like. I went for an advanced health project in my sophomore year of high school; I promise it is safe. In fact, it is one of the most welcoming environments you'll ever be in. Converse with people there; you may just find a hidden passion in you. A great way to learn is by hearing others stories, struggles, and experiences.
Gain Knowledge Through Research
Acknowledge the struggles that others go through every day. The stigma faced is already enough to break a person. What is their family situation? This person may not have any family or one who will support them in any way at all. Maybe this person has a child they are attempting to maintain custody of or simply provide for. Is this person using drugs as a way to shut out the emotional pain of an abusive partner? There are commonly large battles being fought alongside addition.
Understand the Danger in Gateway Drugs
A person may say they're only going to try a drug once to look cool; unfortunately, once can be one too many times. Even with marijuana and nicotine, it is incredibly easy to get hooked. The user will build up a tolerance and the user will need more of the drug, which becomes very expensive. This often leads to the use of cheaper, more risky, and unregulated drugs. There is no way to be positive what is truly going into the body when consuming something off the streets, even from a friend.
Read Risks on Prescription Drugs for after Accidents or Maintaining Chronic Conditions
The same process that occurs with gateway drugs can easily happen with prescription drugs, even if they're your own and you're prescribed. This process happens when a person has an accident or a condition giving them chronic pain. It is easy to get hooked on prescription pain medication; then suddenly, it's still needed once its primary use is maintained. It gives the person a release of the pain temporarily but in the long-term only makes them worse. There are unfortunate situations when a baby can be born with an addition due to parental use while the fetus was in the womb.
Know the Families are Suffering and Fighting too
Never question why a family didn't do more for a person who lost their battle with addition. I guarantee the family fought so hard to keep their loved one alive; I even mean alive as in the person they were before the storm. Drug usage changes a person deeply while they are using. This is a large barrier to successfully becoming clean and not relapsing; it's hard for not only the person but their family as well. Rehab places are incredibility expensive and not everyone has access to them. Once you're clean for 30 days, most rehab places release you. However, 30 days Is the most vulnerable of relapse.
No parent should have to bury their child; my heart breaks if this is you. No child should have to grow up without a parent; you deserve a one actively pursuing you. No sibling should go through life without their other half. No friend should wonder if they could have done more that night. The doctors, EMTs, and nurses who resuscitate the victims have hurt hearts too.
To so many people, a person suffering with an addiction is, was or somewhere in between is and was their absolute everything. To the people who are fighting so hard with them and advocating for them, the one you love will be seen as more than their disease. They are a fighter too.
So everyone, please be gentle with your words because you might not know if you're talking about someone's everything; a person's greatest love and potentially, biggest heartache. Life is greater than one noun, wouldn't you say? Even if all the pieces of a person's childhood, teenage days, their college callings to be this and that, receiving their dream job, finally kissing their love on a wedding day, the days their children were born, and all the pieces after could be wrapped into one - why not have it that word be one to perfectly describe a soul's whole story? We all deserve to be fully known and appreciated.