Stigma and the Language we Use

Here’s an interesting article about stigma and the language often used when talking about addiction. Gil Kerlikowske is the U.S. “Drug Czar” (director of the office of National Drug Control Policy). He has generally been seen as a breath of fresh air in that role, dispensing with the “War on Drugs” outlook, viewing addictive behavior as a public health issue rather than just a criminal justice issue.

The article probes the issue of stigma and Kerlikowske points out that “The degree of stigma is influenced by two main factors: cause — ‘Did they cause it?’ — and controllability — ‘Can they control it?’ We now know that about half the risk of addiction is conferred by genetics – what you’re born with. On controllability, neuroscience has also taught us that alcohol and other drugs cause profound changes in the structure and function of the brain that radically impair individuals’ ability to stop, despite often severe consequences.”

He goes on to say, “Addiction is like many other medical illnesses, in that there’s an interaction between the genetics and the environment. This makes some people more susceptible. For example, a lot of people are exposed to alcohol in our culture, but not everybody becomes addicted to alcohol. The genes may mediate the liking and wanting of that particular substance. For some people, alcohol is aversive for others, it’s kind of okay; for other people, it becomes everything.”

The whole article is worth a read — see it Here.