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Hope exists in four dimensions

20 March 2024

Addict. There’s not much hope in that word. No context, no nuance, no past or future. It’s better than ‘junkie,’ but not a lot. ‘Person living with addiction’. Well, that’s better because at least the word ‘person’ leaves open the possibility of some part of their life beyond drug or alcohol use. But it’s still one dimensional.

Let’s try this for 2-dimensional: “a person with co-occurring needs including drug use”. What we have now is a simple recognition of the truth, at least as far as every single First Step client is concerned. Our people have multiple, co-occurring needs, like mental health issues, housing issues, legal issues and more. If you only treat the substance use, it’s very unlikely that anything much will change (even ‘change’ is a judgy word, but it’s fair to say that people don’t come to First Step because they want things to stay the same).

So, time for 3 dimensions. “A community and family member with co-occurring needs including drug use.” This is true of everyone! The ripple effect, whether positive, negative or both, is a universal effect of each of our existences. Family members of people with co-occurring needs including drug use know that the chaos can spread far and wide, as can the recovery.

Now for the 4th dimension: Time. “A person currently experiencing co-occurring needs including drug use.” We know that ‘currently’ can seem like forever, but everybody has a past, present and a future. That’s where hope lives, and language can often shut us off from that hope.

The way we use words says everything about our unconscious assumptions. Yes, a diagnosis can sometimes be helpful. A person can feel liberated by the thought that they HAVE an ‘addiction’ as opposed to BEING an addict. But we don’t say an ‘MS’ or a ‘cancer’ or an ‘obese.’ When we use one word for a human being it tends to be overflowing with judgement: ‘fatty.’

At First Step we are working on a new way of saying ‘person living with addiction’ or ‘person with a substance use disorder.’ We have no problem with ‘person who uses drugs’ (in the Alcohol and Other Drug sector it is often abbreviated to PWUD). However, in the context of people seeking treatment and support, there is value in a widely accepted phrase to indicate when someone needs support, and that their use of drugs is one part of the picture.

Above, I used ‘person with co-occurring needs including drug use.’ If you have any ideas of your own, please drop us a line. Let’s move away from a diagnosis (a box) to an expression that allows for complexity and nuance. Because that reflects real life.

Patrick Lawrence
Chief Executive Officer