Gospel Mission supervisor disagrees with references to ‘addicts’
With growing concern about the heroin epidemic, there’s an increasing amount of news coverage. As you sift through all the stories, you might notice there has also been a subtle change in the way they are being told.
That’s because of new guidance from the national organization that creates journalistic standards, The Associated Press.
The AP not only distributes news stories that are used by newspapers, websites, television, and radio stations around the country, the AP Style Guide is used by many journalists as the final word in story telling.
In the latest Style Guide issued in May, the AP has added an entire section on addiction and drugs. It says that while “addiction” is the preferred term for the disease, journalists should avoid using words like alcoholic, addict, or abuser. Instead, the AP says the preferred term is “user.”
Richard McAdams, the Search and Rescue supervisor for Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, describes himself as a drug addict, although he is not currently a drug user.
“I’ve been sober for four-and-a-half years, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m an addict,” he said.
The AP explains: “stigmatizing or punitive-sounding language can be inaccurate by emphasizing the person, not the disease, can be a barrier to seeking treatment, and can prejudice even clinicians.”
“People are going to seek treatment when they’re ready to, regardless of whether you call them a drug addict or a drug user,” he said. “Treatment occurs when someone hits rock bottom.”
McAdams also finds the term “substance use” to be too vague. He points out that people who have an occasional drink, use caffeine, or smoke cigarettes also fall into this category.
“Addiction is a problem. It is a disease,” McAdams reassured. “There’s a fine line. There are addicts and there are substance users.”
The more important thing is how we approach the addict as an individual, according to McAdams, and that we understand each person has their own story.
“Changing the name of what you’re going to call them, whether it be a junkie or a substance user, it’s still the same problem,” said Richard. “You still have an addict at hand.”