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Drug Laws: Addiction Language Matters Says Mental Health Expert

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Recent figures have painted a concerning picture of Britain’s drug and alcohol use, with hospitalisations and deaths increasing sharply. ONS statistics show that deaths in Britain caused by alcohol increased at the highest rate (19%) since records began last year. While in Scotland, there were 1,339 drug deaths in 2020, more than three and a half times that in England and Wales.

This week, national and devolved governments have released their strategy for tackling alcohol and drug use. However, Scotland’s new public health campaign has made headlines by eradicating terms like ‘addict’, ‘alcoholic’ and ‘junkie’. 

Martin Preston, an expert in addiction and the founder of Delamere, agrees there is still too much ignorance and taboo in the language surrounding addiction in the UK. 

Martin, who recovered from alcohol and cocaine dependencies, said: ‘Even though addiction is an illness classified by the World Health Organization and despite the better recent narrative around other mental health issues, addiction is still misunderstood by many.’

‘It takes courage and humility for anyone to forgo their anonymity and talk about their recovery from addiction. When someone does this, they carry a compelling message that recovery is possible and help break some of the stigmas that keep the UK stuck.’

The language we use around addiction matters

Martin agreed: ‘Better terminology should be used to educate people. Instead of the addict, it’s more compassionate to say a person with a substance use disorder, for instance. Addict suggests that the person is a problem rather than the person has a problem. Punitive, shaming terms keep people from seeking help.’

‘In the US, for instance, there is much more compassion and understanding around addiction, this is perhaps thanks to Betty Ford who, having been so public about her alcoholism and recovery, became a great advocate for recovery. What hope do we have here in the UK if someone tries to carry the recovery message and is met with ignorance and outmoded, derogatory language?’

If you would like more tips from Martin on how to approach the topic of addiction or would like to arrange an interview, please get in touch. 

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