What's in an 's'?

In the addiction sector the simple ‘s’ when used after the term addiction totally changes the meaning of what is being stated.

In the sector most of us use the term addiction to cover a broad spectrum of substance use, gambling, gaming etc behaviour ranging from risky/hazardous, harmful, through to ‘disorders’ of increasing levels of severity.

We use the terms addiction practitioner and addiction service etc, to cover a person or service that caters to the range of behaviours not just the extreme end.

The extreme end of the spectrum corresponds to the traditional non-sector understanding of what addiction is, such as when people talk about being an ‘addict’ or having an opiate or methamphetamine addiction. 

When the ‘s’ is added to the addiction it then becomes about the behaviours or substances and the extreme end of the spectrum because of this historical understanding.

So, if people talk about the addictions sector or addictions, they are talking about the specialist services involved with and people who have a severe substance use, gambling or gaming disorder, which includes craving, neuroadaptation, tolerance and withdrawal, rather than the broader spectrum of problematic substance use, gambling or gaming. 

It is understandable why people outside of our sector get confused about the use of the term in this context because of the history of the use of the term and it has only really been in the past 25-30 years that we as a sector have embraced it as a generic term for problematic behaviours or substance use.

Language evolves in response to addressing stigma and discrimination and in my view the term addictions often carries the stigma of the history of how addiction, in the broad sense, has been understood as a failing in the person rather than a normal bio-psycho-social response to deprivation, trauma and other ACEs. 

So don’t be surprised if I challenge you when I hear or see you use the ‘s’ when talking about the addiction workforce.