Language matters: “Achieving” Sobriety, Defining your Recovery, and Reducing Harm

 

Sobriety is defined as the state of being sober and the definition of sober, is outdated, referring to being unaffected by alcohol. (Interesting, how it only mentions alcohol, right?) Today most people reference being sober in regards to being free from mind altering substances. And truthfully, when you factor caffeine, nicotine, and psychotropic medications in there, most people are not sober. So can we talk about the glorified pedestal we put sobriety on? And maybe take it down a notch?

When people use the phrase “achieving sobriety” they inadvertently imply that not being sober is an act of failure -if that’s the case, the majority of the world is failing at life. Fortunately, that’s not the case. (Sidebar: Psychotropic medications for example have been an effective and beneficial option to those who need them.) Sobriety isn’t something you achieve or fail to accomplish. Yes, if you can do it, be proud, because it’s definitely difficult to do and maintain, especially for those who have had an addiction. However, let’s be sure the language we use doesn’t put others down in the process.

^^This reminds me of the mom politics surrounding childbirth. Women who endure the pain of a non-medicated vaginal delivery are often proud of their pain medication-free delivery method. And to them, I say, “Way to go!” However, it does not make you a better mom than the woman in the room next door with an epidural.

Not having substance use disorder doesn’t make you a better person than someone who does.

All this said, please consider the word “achieve” when you are talking about sobriety.

Further, in a recent conversation with Dan Bigg who is often referred to as the, “Patron Saint of Harm reduction” and the director of the Chicago Recovery Alliance, I found myself reevaluating the word, “recovery” a term he defines as, “any positive change”. This coincides well with the definitions of recovery according to various dictionaries which define it as, “the act, process, duration, or an instance of recovering” and “a return to a normal or healthy condition”. With recovery often being seen as a process, or current state of being, and seeing as most people don’t use it in the past tense claiming to “be recovered” from substance use disorder, perhaps recovery is what we should encourage people towards, instead of sobriety.

You see, sobriety, being looked at with its high and holy zero-tolerance policy, it’s pretty difficult to acquire. As mentioned, most people don’t have it going on. Further, the word has recently evoked controversy among those in recovery over whether those who use medically assisted treatment are able to consider themselves sober. By current definition, which only references alcohol, the answer is yes. And if you are going to use today’s interpretation of the word – free from mind altering substances- well than no one who uses caffeine, nicotine, psychotropic medications, or has an occasional alcoholic beverage is ever always sober.

See the word sober, as it’s defined, carries no real time frame. So I’m not sure when or why we allowed sobriety to be the golden standard of recovery, but I think it’s time we all see recovery as individualized as the people and treatment plans for those with substance use disorder.

Perhaps those with substance use disorder and those impacted by substance use disorder should simply work toward recovery through reducing harm and any positive change.

#DefineYourOwnRecovery

Advertisements

A letter to David Vincent

A letter to Mr. David Vincent (and those sharing his post),

I’ve seen your Facebook post, as so many have. I think it’s worth a discussion.
davidvincent

I’ll start by admitting, I’m not sure I understand the placement of the quotation marks in your incredible inaccurate status. Unless it is there to imply sarcasm in regards to the word “free” given narcan is not free.

What makes you think it is free?

Narcan, or naloxone, is $5000 for the auto-inject, $150 for the nasal spray, and $45 for the vile and syringe at Walgreens, last I checked.  It isn’t always covered by insurance, unlike “chemo”. (Again, what’s up with the quotations?) It is made available for “free” by nonprofit organizations like the one I operate, which PAYS for it, and then gives it away because who am I or you or anyone else to judge the value of another person’s life?

Fun fact for you: The auto-inject naloxone was initially on the market for $400, but the price was raised to $5,000 as the demand for it increased. This may sound familiar if you are aware of Mylan’s appalling skyrocketing price of the epi-pen for anaphylaxis. One might argue pharmaceutical manufacturers see people’s lives as a matter of making profit. That said, if you want to have some kind of feelings or opinion about who gets treatment and who doesn’t…take it up with big pharma, start a nonprofit, or dish out the cash for someone else’s treatment. But deciding who gets to live and who gets to die based on YOUR interpretation of a disease – opposed to the definition in the DSM5 – is ignorant. And further, this uneducated “analogy” doesn’t actually help anyone. It does however, say a lot about the quality of individual who wrote it and arguably about those who share it. If the goal of posting it was to benefit cancer patients, it does absolutely nothing of the sort. What it does do, is hinder those who see it, who suffer with an addiction, from getting help. Perhaps helping people with addiction isn’t important to you or those who share it, but is it necessary to put those people down? That’s the only thing your status has accomplished. That and putting down the work of people who fought to change the laws to make narcan accessible.

You want to do something for cancer patients? Then actually do something! You can even call me up and I will gladly help you navigate setting up a 501c3, raise funds, donate my time and money, and hit up Washington as I’ve done for addiction. I’ll do it all without downplaying another health crisis and judging the value of another’s life.

Sincerely,
#wakethenation