Reframing the Language of Addiction


by Catherine Findley, LICSW


As a therapist, my initial meeting with a client involves gathering information about their lifestyle as well as their current concerns. This was the case with “Leah,” a middle-aged woman who had been feeling “stuck” and “down” and wanted to make some changes for the future. In the course of our conversation she shared that she is worried about her drinking and that it has increased significantly over the past few years. Together we discussed the myriad options available to address issues of addiction and developed a plan for moving forward. Leah left feeling hopeful, with a plan.

For many years the medical community and laypersons have used the terms ”substance abuse” and “substance abuser” when they describe situations like Leah.  However, with the release of the American Psychiatric Association’s latest diagnostic handbook, the DSM-V, this is no longer the case. The medical community has begun using the term “Substance Use Disorder” or “SUD”, which means the term “abuser” is not automatically assigned to someone like Leah's.

Why is this important? Because when we label someone a “substance abuser” we label the whole person which may shame and disparage them, possibly dissuading them from seeking help. Additionally, the term “abuse” often conveys that the situation involves a victim and a perpetrator, as in child abuse, sexual abuse, domestic abuse or physical abuse. In contrast, the term “substance use disorder” appropriately conveys that addictive disorders are medical conditions and can be treated with medication as well as therapy.

Medication Assisted Therapy (MAT) can be used in concert with other forms of therapies and support. Naltrexone is a medication that is commonly prescribed for addiction to opiates or alcohol. It can decrease initial cravings as well as block the pleasure receptors in the brain when the substance is used.

While CJFS does not provide primary treatment for Substance Use Disorders (SUD), we are adept at guiding our clients to appropriate resources while providing support along the way. Below are two websites with links to resources that address addiction issues.

CJFS provides individual and group therapy for family, relationship and parenting issues, as well as depression, addiction, anxiety, and grief. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact Clinical Director Marcy Morgenbesser, or 205.879.3438.