The "Addict" Debate: Why We Really Need to Keep Talking (and Listening)

Apr 13 2016

The “Addict” Debate: Why We Really Need to Keep Talking (and Listening)

April 13th, 2016

Editor’s note: The debate on The Influence began when we published Johann Hari’s piece—Should We Stop Using the Word “Addict”?—earlier this month. 

This week, we published a critical response by Meghan Ralston: “Why I Can’t Accept Johann Hari’s Defense of the Word “Addict.”

Below is Johann Hari’s reply.

I am a huge admirer of Meghan Ralston—I interviewed her for my book—and I think she speaks a lot of sense here, and elsewhere. I think Meghan and I essentially agree on almost everything she says, and every change we want to see in the world—we both agree on the urgent need to remove stigma and the war against people who have addiction problems; I have nearly lost some of the people I most love to this, and she has been through that hell herself.

So I will weigh what she says with a lot of respect; when somebody you admire expresses a disagreement, you should think about it carefully.

The only thing I’d say as an initial response is that Meghan has in two ways I can see (understandably; this is a really charged and personal subject for both of us) slightly misunderstood some of my positions, and it might be useful to clarify what I was saying.

1. Meghan says—“And finally, Johann—isn’t it patently ridiculous to continue stigmatizing people as “addicts…”?

Yes, it is. That’s the point of my book, and the work I’ve been doing for the past five years. That’s not the nature of the (small) disagreement between us.

We agree that the term “addict” is very often used to stigmatize people—just as calling someone “gay” 50 years ago (or when I was a gay kid, 20 years ago) was stigmatizing. That’s not the question I was asking in the original piece. The question I was asking was—could we help to remove the stigma by reclaiming the word (and by the many other measures Meghan and I support every day)? That’s what gay people have done: It is now not a stigma (for many people) to be called gay; call me gay and I regard it as a factual statement, not an insult.

Perhaps Meghan is right, and the term “addict” is so charged and so soaked in stigma that we can’t do that—this is worth thinking about carefully. I am open-minded on this, and a lot of what Meghan says in this piece: It needs careful thought.

But it’s plainly not right to characterize this specific conversation as a debate between a pro-stigma side and an anti-stigma side. If this was an argument for or against stigma, Meghan and I would be lined up against stigma every time—as we are in our public work every day of the week.

2. Meghan argues that my case for continuing on occasion to use the term “addict” is based simply on a desire to be pithier, and to express myself more quickly.

She writes:

I’m not troubled if you are inconvenienced for a few seconds when wondering how to describe a woman struggling with chaotic meth use. I care about that actual woman struggling with chaotic meth use, whose humanity you are about to casually undermine.”

But my case for sometimes using the word “addict” is not simply that it is faster, but that it may be more comprehensible to the public we are going to have to persuade if we are going to end the war on addicts; and that if we can successfully de-stigmatize the word, it won’t undermine her humanity.

A key chapter of my book is about Marcia Powell, who was cooked in a cage for being having a serious meth and crack problem: I spent months exploring her human story, and there isn’t a day that passes when I don’t think of her. Meghan and I are united in asserting her humanity, and the need to build respect for it in a world that literally murdered her for it. Like Meghan—who’s done amazing work on this for the Drug Policy Alliance for years, which I really urge people to support—I know we need to stop that killing. And to stop it, we need to persuade a lot of people, fast.

My concern is that if we talk in a way that is incomprehensible to people, with misleading terms like PUDs (People Who Use Drugs), we actually in practice (but not in intent) may deny those people humanity, by talking in a way that 99 percent of the public can’t understand, and therefore can’t be persuaded by.

We have to de-stigmatize the way people with addiction problems are seen, to change the way they are treated and abused. I suspect it will be easier to do that if—at the same time—we de-stigmatize the word “addict,” just as attitudes to gay people were de-stigmatized alongside the word. Meghan thinks it would be more effective to de-stigmatize people with addiction problems by abandoning the word, and adopting a different term. It’s perfectly possible that she’s right and I’m wrong. But the conversation should be based on an accurate characterization of what everyone in the debate is saying.

3. I don’t know that this is a disagreement, so much as a point for further discussion.

Meghan suggests a number of alternatives like “chemical dependence” or “people who use drugs.” But as I argued in my original piece, these terms—like the term “addict”—have really substantial drawbacks: Most people who are chemically dependent are not addicted; and most people who use drugs are not addicted. (I explained why I think so here). These terms may actually prevent us from getting help to people with addiction problems. My concern is that these terms can—although this is absolutely not Meghan’s intent (indeed, it is contrary to her intent)— feed false and damaging ideas about drug use that reinforce the drug war.

I do think Meghan makes a strong case that, in most circumstances, “people addicted to X” is better than just the term “addict.” I want to think about the rest of her piece more carefully. I’d be interested to hear other people’s thoughts on it—and this wider discussion—too.

Johann Hari is a British journalist and author of the New York Times best-selling book Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. To find out why Glenn Greenwald, Noam Chomsky, Bill Maher, Naomi Klein and Elton John have all praised it, click here. Another of his columns for The Influence was: Why Is Marijuana Banned? The Real Reasons Are Worse Than You Think. You can follow him on Twitter: @JohannHari101.

  • LOL. The Steppers (and steppers-in-denial) will beat you over the head no matter what you do. You can’t win – except that decriminalization will reveal that ‘addict’ is simply another word for ‘witch’. See the Amy Schumer episode – ‘Amy gives the whole town the clap’ (setting – 1600’s Salem witch trial). And yes I am a drug addict and alcoholic – judge me at your peril.

    • Roy Coffey

      More significantly, you are a total idiot. What the hell are you even talking about? I think the drugs have totally addled your mental omelette.

      • Like I said, the steppers will beat you over the head no matter what. Thanks for demonstrating that. Please, persist in your witch hunt:

        • Roy Coffey

          WhAt t he hell? An OCD masochist! Interesting. Tell us your life story!

          • Oh so I am OCD now? And a masochist? Any more diagnoses you’d like to pull out of the DSM to hurl against the unbeliever? What’s astonishing to me is not that you are a nasty bully but that all of the other addicts here stand back and say nothing. Even after insisting, “Oh, I never see bullying at the meetings I don’t go to but if I did I would say something.” Hypocrites.

          • Roy Coffey

            No, but I looked at your comments, and it appears that acting all OCD and then ranting at the people who say you are acting all OCD is really your thing. Gives you a real woodie, does it?

            That, as I am sure you know, is really OCD.

            Have fun, Mr. Soggy Britches, wetting your pants when people tell you the obvious.

          • Wow so I have a woodie and I wet my pants. Is that in the DSM now too? I wouldn’t be surprised. But thanks for showing the persistence with which you will bully the newcomer at the meetings you deny going to. And thanks for proving my original point, which is that the steppers will put you on trial for various mental illnesses and beat you over the head if you call yourself an addict outside of meetings by calling you ‘addled by drugs’. And thanks for showing that no one will step in and confront you even after insisting that they’ve never seen bullying at meetings but would say something if they did. And thanks for showing that even the ‘experts’ stand by silently. Which helps explain how this has lasted for so long. These are all valuable lessons for the future historians who try to understand how it came to this. So thanks, and please proceed to show why so many people are dying of drugs:

          • Roy Coffey

            Good grief. It doesn’t take much to set you off, does it?

          • Like I said, they will beat you over the head if you call yourself an ‘addict’ outside of meetings. Thanks for proving my point again. But just in case you are still hoping for a different result, feel free to give it another shot:

          • Roy Coffey

            I have no idea what the hell you are talking about. Are you addicted to your own logorrhea?

            How am I proving that they beat you over the head if you talk outside of meetings? What meetings? How did I prove your point? What point?

            Who is on first? Are you sure you are responding to the right comments? What the hell?

            Inquiring minds want to know what the heck you are talkin’ ’bout, Willis.

          • ‘logorrhea’ – thank you for pulling another diagnosis out of the DSM with which to beat over the head the person who points out how the steppers will deny going to meetings (thank you again for proving my point, by the way) and then accuse you of an endless serious of psychological defects and disorders. You’re doing great, though this would be a good time for another stepper to pile on with “I’m not a stepper but the only the person more idiotic than this guy is the person who’d respond to him.” Well, just an idea to tuck away for future reference. Anyway, please continue with the demonstration of my original comment, which you might take a second to read, for your own benefit, which points out that steppers engage in a bullying campaign against the addiction heretic worthy of a Salem witch trial:

          • Matt Hoffman

            AddictionMyth – you have brought up some very excellent points – and honestly I am not a stepper – lol- I have however seen the inside of a much more brutal, sadictic, and violent cult that had nothing to do with AA/NA – it was more like a Synanon on steroids because of the founders violent street thug mentality – and his brush with a more violent version of a direct spin off of Synanon – ( meridian house of Conn, a more violent version of Daytop)

            Anyway I simply digress – I also agree with Kenneth- that using those terms brings to mind the crazy back on forth eyes of the film “Reefer Madness ” as to what was really a poor attempt at showing what pseudo marijuana induced paranoia looks like – operative words – poor attempt .

            I think that as hedonistic human beings – we seek to feel good – look at how Roy is slicking up his imaginary mental pants with his rather rude and crude attempt of cerebral masturbation.

            And in trying to get back to the point of topic. I understand that many people can lose the so called handel ( I and I musician) on their ability to seek this type of hedonistic drive and become more lost in their “misuse ” of their particular thing be it legal or otherwise .

            I honestly don’t believe that people who lose this handle want to stay in that state of flux and would rather have assistance in getting their handle back . I do believe that at some point there maybe a required detoxing thru a professional medically trained staff . And I truly value a more compassionate form of medical assistance in this process – there should be no suffering.

            I also think that a relic from the 1935’s that has been the standard of free and now also of the highly lucrative rehabs found today that practice this antiquated religious cultic doctrine of being ” powerlessness” – that espouses that herein and therefore one must seek a God of a faith healing extravaganza-( that pesky little higher power)- to remove their character defects- that has supposedly caused them to find themselves in this intense place of acute substance misuse to be an utterly absurd way to treat this problem.

            I think education and empowering people who have developed this particular problem is a far better way than simply telling them over and over- mantra like – that if they ever fail and use or misuse for that matter that they will either become” insane , dead, or in jail “- ( a book by Zack Bonnie btw ). It is simply not true – yet lets set someone up who falls for this- for a unreturning fact of a self fulfilling prophesy- think Philip Hoffman. It really is sad to see happen.

            And then throw in the aspect of a God to pray for removal of newly discovered character defects – morally irresponsible and severely damaging to the person who is seeking assistance. If a person needs Suboxone- it should be made available – though using the steps of AA/NA to me is not a realistic nor practical way as to how I would want to be treated if I had a misuse problem with either legal or illegal substances.

            I like to grow and learn from my mistakes and enjoy my sense of free will – I don’t want to be stifled and misled by a program that its adherents can’t be even slightly ” honest” about that it is religion – or worse a bastardized form of faith healing that actually doesn’t work for many.

            Almost in glee – when there is a slip the cultic adherents dance and say it is either because you are “constitutionally unable to be honest ” or that a person who dies as a result of being in its grasp of stepping and misuse – are dismissed as simply not working a good program, as calloused as it – this is very true- think of all the talent that is lost and known about yet realize how many this happens to in reality that are not famous- it is staggering the damage that is done by convincing some one that they are powerless over anything.

            I would rather see a discussion on this with you AddictionMyth than see you waste your time with a person whose sole in driven need is to feel good bashing another human being – relentlessly. Sorry that is how I feel. I hope this made some sense also- as I am not a stepper.

          • Matt Hoffman – I’m sorry for your experience. I cannot offer you absolution but I can assure you that forgiveness is available to all. Oh, and don’t you worry about me ‘wasting’ my time, because you are only demonstrating how the bullies pile on, and how the cult (and others much, much worse) lasted for so long. Not because of the ‘evil’ people – but the ‘good’ ones who stood by and said to the critics: “You are wasting your time.” LOL.

          • Matt Hoffman

            Actually I have not stood by and wasted my time in exposing and closing down the insane “abuse as therapy” cult/rtc that I was speaking about . I think you missed my point – no worries – I was more thinking about a discussion about the topic – not playing with someone who obviously just wants to bash and not offer anything concrete, except to bash to make themselves feel superior and or better, as was being demonstrated by the above comments .

            I am afraid you missed my point – as far as bullying I think that point is well made by Roy who was obsrtufacating the topic by literally attacking you. A discussion more about the word substance misuse versus , say addict or alcoholic. And in the process of that discussion I also think and said that I don’t believe in using an antiquated relic from the 1935’s to treat either the legal substances or the illegal that people “misuse “as they seek for what ever reason pleasure because by nature human beings are hedonistic. ( We seek to feel good and seek pleasure since we stood up on two feet) is viable in this day and age.

            I also think that arguing with a person in a tit-for-tat fashion ad nauseam does nothing to bring anything to this topic – that is why I was hoping that maybe one could have a discussion on a more positive note – and that point seems to have been missed.

            Still since I have your attention – why would you feel that I am seeking absolution from anyone ?

            What I do seek is justice in the death of a young man -who died after being” forced to fight” on 12- 27-82 by spin off of Synanon- The Elan center/corporstion/skool. Survivors of this sadistic ,brutal and violent soul easting hell hole got it to close in 2011. Sadly many of us had been working on exposing and closing it for over 16 years. And yes many people did say forget it Mastt you are just wasdting your time -funny we just got an investigstion started into the imo murder and subsequent cover up of this young boys death ..

            His name was Phil Williams -and he was 15 years old when he passed – If I and others did nothing then this place and the adults who ran it would still feel that they had gotten away with killing this young man. Therefore I get your point about and understand that our critics who said – give up – you can’t do anything about it -were wrong because we were not going to give up in the quest of seeking justice for this horrible crime that occurred in Poland Springs ,Maine .

            I will also add this investigation just started in Maine roughly a month ago because people like me did not give up. So I understand your other point -though it certainly doesn’t apply to me, and my activism is rather well known as I seek justice for all Elan survivors including the death of this young man- who died after being forced to fight in the notorious Elan ring.

            Sorry you mis- understood my points . – peace .

            I was hoping to have a more positive discussion about the topic that to argue –

          • Thank you for speaking out and not listening to the people who told you to ‘stop wasting your time’. I will do the same.

          • Roy Coffey

            I am not a stepper. I am just an ordinary fellow who tripped over a whack-job.

          • Of course you’re not a stepper. You will all deny her. And now I’m a ‘whack-job’. Great now let’s see how many other synonyms of ‘crazy’ you can come up with:

          • Roy Coffey

            What the hell is a “stepper”? I am not a drug addict or in a x-step program. You are nuts!

          • Oh good, ‘nuts’, thank you. OK now please proceed with your denial of a long history of bullying people as you spew endless synonyms for ‘crazy’ at me. This will be a great opportunity to demonstrate how the steppers operate – by denying any knowledge of what a ‘stepper’ is even as they respond angrily to comments about steppers. Notice how the other steppers-in-denial and ‘experts’ stand by and say nothing while this happens, which explains how this has lasted for so long. Anyway sorry for the interruption, please proceed:

          • Roy Coffey

            Yes, I deny that, you batty crackpot. WTF?

          • Great, now ‘batty crackpot’ in addition to ‘nuts’ and ‘whack-job’ and ‘idiot’ and ‘logorrhea’ and ‘OCD’ and ‘wet pants’. So where did you learn your bullying skills if not at meetings? And why did you respond to my original comment about steppers acting like bullying witch hunters if you have no idea what a stepper is? OK now please continue with more synonyms for crazy in your vain attempt to prove that people are dying of drugs not suicide bullying at meetings. Feel free to proceed on to ‘ignorant’, ‘insane’, ‘in denial’, ‘lying’, and ‘stupid’ at your leisure:

          • Roy Coffey

            You seem to get a lot of these comments.

            I see you have concluded that there is a massive conspiracy against you. OK, I will confess, this is true. Roughly 270,000,000 Americans have joined this conspiracy–so many it is becoming difficult to find places to meet. We have a newsletter and everything. Would you like me to send you a link?

          • Oh yay, now I am paranoid for pointing out that the steppers will deny membership and then beat you over the head simply for calling yourself an ‘addict’ outside of meetings. Thank you for demonstrating the point of my original comment, please proceed to confirm my remaining points, such that they will launch a witch hunt jihad against you using every diagnosis from the DSM and no one will step in to criticize them:

          • Roy Coffey

            Hey, I am on your side now. I have quit the conspiracy. You are RIGHT!

            Do you want to read the newsletter or not? It might help you in your Quixotic battle to stamp out the evil of multi-step programs.

            Is it so impossible to believe you have an ally?

          • Wait, so earlier today you didn’t know what a ‘stepper’ was, and now you’re going to help me ‘stamp out the evil of multi-step programs’? And now after viciously insulting me, you are my ‘ally’? LOL thanks at least for demonstrating some of the techniques you use to bully the newcomers at the meetings you deny going to. So yes, I believe you are helping me ‘stamp out the evil of multi-step programs’, in your own way. I’m only wondering when you’ll start to realize it.

          • Roy Coffey

            Well, if you don’t want any help, I’ll just admire you from afar.

            But I am still not going back to my many multi-step programs. Do you know how many of these Donald Trump is in? 34!!!

          • Oh, your help has been invaluable. Don’t sell yourself short. It is now more obvious that the problem isn’t drugs, but the bullying you can expect to receive at meetings not unlike what you unleashed here. Thanks!

          • Roy Coffey

            You appear to beg for it. Consider whether you make your own problems, jerk.

          • Great, now I’m a ‘jerk’. And I’m the cause of your insults and abuse. Thanks for showing how you blame everyone else for your vitriol except yourself. And thanks for the opportunity to show again that even the ‘experts’ say nothing in the face of this abuse. And thanks for showing again how steppers insult the newcomers and then deny membership. And thanks for showing why there is so much suicide at AA.

            OK let’s see how many more synonyms of ‘raca’ you can come up with:

          • Roy Coffey

            Get lost, whacko.

          • “Whacko” – thanks for coming up with another insult, you’re doing great at demonstrating how the steppers deny membership then proceed to abuse and exploit the newcomer and tell them to ‘get lost’ if they challenge sacred dogma. Please proceed in your doomed attempt to defend your cult which only serves to expose it:

          • Roy Coffey

            Cut and paste some more nonsense.

            Or do you type it all from scratch?

          • Which part is nonsense? That the steppers will beat you over the head for calling yourself an addict in public? That they will then deny being a stepper? That they will claim not even to know what a ‘stepper’ is? Then claim that Donald Trump is a member of 72 12 Step groups? Then hurl at you all manner of mental illness diagnoses and insults and bullying? And that no one, not even the ‘experts’ will attempt to stop it, only say that responding to it is ‘wasting your time’? Then call it ‘nonsense’ when you point out that this is why people are killing themselves, not a fictitious disease called ‘addiction’? Then claim that:

          • Roy Coffey

            Pretty much all of it.

            Seek help.

          • “Seek help.” – Again we see the mental illness bullying you will be subjected to at your local AA meeting where the steppers will beat you over the head if you call yourself an addict outside the rooms (and then deny knowing what a ‘stepper’ is). And again we see that no one will stand up for you, even after saying, “I never see bullying by steppers but if I did I’d say something.” This will be very valuable information for the historians of the future as they struggle to understand how the cult killed so many people while blaming it on “the disease known as addiction in which anyone who calls himself an addict is suicide bullied.” As will be further demonstrated:

          • Roy Coffey

            Maybe you should not go to AA meetings.

            Just a thought. I know I don’t go, and it has worked out fine for me.

            Are you wearing a dress?

          • “Are you wearing a dress? Are you done blithering now?” Thank you again for demonstrating the kind of bullying you will experience at your local AA meeting if you question sacred doctrine or point out that you will be bullied at your local AA meeting if you question sacred doctrine. And all the other tactics that worked out so well for old-timers in the past, including that even the ‘experts’ will stand back and say nothing as this happens. Please, proceed with the demonstration of what else you can expect to experience if you dare call yourself an addict outside of meetings:

          • Roy Coffey

            So if I go to an AA meeting, I will hear people say these things?

            Tell me more!

            PS–Congratulations on this AMAZING sentence:
            “Thank you again for demonstrating the kind of bullying you will experience at your local AA meeting if you question sacred doctrine or point out that you will be bullied at your local AA meeting if you question sacred doctrine.”

          • Wow you didn’t bully or insult or belittle. At the risk of speaking too soon, I think that’s progress.

          • Roy Coffey

            I think I have this figured out. It has taken me a while, but the solution to your problem is simple and elegant.

            First, let me state the problem: You attend a great many Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and while there, you feel driven to say things that you know will upset them, because they question or ridicule their most deeply held beliefs. You also call them silly names. Then you are surprised when they are hostile toward you.

            SOLUTION: Don’t go to AA meetings.

            Like it? I thought you would.

            Please understand that I am not an alcoholic or drug abuser, and do not belong to any “step” programs. This is why I kind of marked you as a crazy idiot early in the game.

          • “crazy idiot” – Alas, I spoke too soon. You have returned to your insults like a good AA member-in-denial. Anyway, please proceed in your demonstration of how you will be hounded incessantly like the victim in a modern day witch hunt if you dare to call yourself an ‘addict’ outside of meetings:

          • Roy Coffey


          • Oh no, the stepper-in-denial is bored that the apostate has pointed out his bullying again, that you too can experience if you go to the meetings which he tells you not to.

          • Roy Coffey


            I don’t even drink.

          • Not an insult – I guess that is progress. Keep up the good work.

          • Roy Coffey

            I don’t need to insult you. You do a good enough job on yourself.

            Work on avoiding self-destructive behaviors, and don’t pick fights with people who mean you no harm. You are your own worst enemy, you know.

            I am sure that you’ve heard that many times before.

          • “You are your own worst enemy, you know.” And where would I have heard that? At the meetings you claim not even to have heard of? And how many people have you told that to? Here are some other things you can feel free to deny ever saying: “You don’t know what you’re capable of” and “I’m scared for you and the people around you”. Thanks for demonstrating the bullying you can expect to be subjected to at your local AA meeting, and thanks for showing that everyone will stand back and say nothing even as the bullying happens right in front of their face. Though, this would be a good opportunity for someone to tell me that I am wasting my time arguing with a fool. Perhaps it will go better for them this time, and perhaps it will distract my attention from your bullying. We shall see.

          • Roy Coffey

            Well, you are wasting your time.

            As for the rest of your observations, may God bless and protect you.

          • I’m wasting my time by showing how the 12 Step caliphate will beat you over the head for calling yourself an ‘addict’ in public after decreeing that they will beat you over the head if you call yourself an addict in public? And follow it up with endless insults and religious sanctimony? Please, tell me more:

          • Roy Coffey

            Well, since you’ve now said it about 1,945 times, I would say, “yes.”

            There is not much else to say.

          • So I’m wasting my time by pointing out how the 12 Step caliphate will call you a ‘crazy idiot’ and characterize your comments as ‘blithering’ if you call yourself an addict in public, and that no one will defend the victim of the bullying, just stand back and watch even after lamenting how addicts are subjected to abuse that can be solved simply by speaking out on the issue? OK, please do feel free to tell me again that I’m wasting my time and see how well that goes for you:

          • Roy Coffey

            Again, yes.


          • OK then thank you for the demonstration of the persistence with which the 12 Step Caliphate will persecute the unbeliever. And that everyone else will simply stand back and say nothing even after complaining about the injustices that addicts are subjected to simply by a single word. This will be very helpful when the historians of the future try to figure out what the hell happened. So please, proceed in your demonstration and see if it goes any better for you and your cult this time:

          • Roy Coffey


            That Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder diagnosis is looking pretty much like a no-brainer.

          • You’re counting my responses and I have OCD? LOL thanks for demonstrating the hypocrisy with which you will be diagnosed with all manner of psychiatric illnesses at your local AA meetings by members who first claim not to know what “12 Steps” is and then deny being members and then bully and insult you and call you ‘crazy idiot’ and diagnose you with a whole new list of illnesses as everyone else stands around silently watching. Proceed:

          • Roy Coffey

            1948 (It is just a guess, silly)

          • OK so now I am ‘silly’ for pointing out how you obsessively respond to me with accusations of ‘OCD’. Or perhaps I am ‘silly’ for pointing out how the steppers will beat you over the head for calling yourself an addict outside of meetings and then deny membership. Please, continue to demonstrate AA hypocrisy for all to see, thereby discrediting the cult in your tenacious attempt to defend it against the addiction heretic:

          • Roy Coffey


          • Is that another diagnosis code from the DSM?

          • Roy Coffey

            Nope. You are still at 1949. I will make you keep count for yourself from here on in.

            What is a DSM? Something those “steppers” use?

          • I’m still at 1949? OK and what are you at?

          • Roy Coffey

            I am at the corner of Fourth and Main. The light just turned green–see you!

          • No insults or bullying? Cool. Keep up the good work.

          • Roy Coffey


          • OK and repeatedly and obsessively diagnosing me with OCD is helping you in what way? Do you own an OCD clinic? Do you think that I or someone reading this will think, “Maybe I have OCD and should seek treatment?” Or perhaps you are asking for help in some way? It’s ok if you are.

          • Roy Coffey


            If you do not enjoy our correspondence, why do you maintain it? Can’t we agree that the conclusion is inescapable?

          • I don’t enjoy our correspondence, but I am grateful for the opportunity to reveal to everyone what nasty hypocritical trolls they will encounter at AA and how they will be bullied with endless insults and mental illness diagnoses. As well for the sake of future historians to see how they lasted for so long without any resistance (until me and a few others as you can see on the recent Maia article). And how people say “I never seen bullying at AA and if I did I would say something” and then say nothing even as it happens right under their nose. And why the suicide rate at AA is so high. So I am grateful to you for that, as unpleasant as this interaction is.

            Why did you initiate our conversation with a nasty insult because I called myself an addict in which I said that banning the use of the word ‘addict’ would only provide another pretense for Steppers to beat people over the head for heresy? What did you hope to gain and why do you pursue this witch hunt even though you are exposing both the nasty tactics of the mental illness industry and 12 Step snake pit? Do you think you might have OCD? Do you need help? Do you think I can help you in some way? If so, let me know – we can discuss. I cannot offer you absolution, but I can reassure you that forgiveness is available to all – no amends required.

          • Roy Coffey


          • You seem obsessed with my comments. Are you addicted to AddictionMyth? The first step is admitting you have a problem:

          • Roy Coffey



          • OK you win. Enjoy being both right and happy.

          • Roy Coffey

            See! Now you are cured.

            You are welcome.

          • And you didn’t insult or bully! Good work! You are welcome too.

          • Roy Coffey

            Thank you for your kind acknowledgement that I have been respectful while administering your therapy. Peace be with you.

          • No actually you’ve been very disrespectful. Starting with “you are a total idiot” and going downhill from there. But thank you for admitting you are a OCD treatment provider, which explains your compulsive need to diagnose me with it – that’s useful for the members of AA see how this process works. And thank you for not insulting again this time, that is at least 4 messages without an insult or a diagnosis of a new random mental illness from the DSM. I’m heartened to see your continued progress. Peace be with you.

          • Roy Coffey

            Well, you are a total idiot. But I was just responding to what you said.

            I guess you are a hypocrite as well as a total idiot. You are right that I do not respect you. Please go away now.

          • I am a ‘total idiot’ again? And now a hypocrite? Oh well, I thought we were making progress. But thanks at least for demonstrating the incessant bullying you will be subjected to at your local AA meeting, and how no one will say anything. Just watch and see what happens and what the bully says next:

          • Roy Coffey


          • You seem obsessed with me. Are you addicted to AddictionMyth? Well thanks at least for demonstrating how the bullies will beat you over the head for calling yourself an ‘addict’ outside of meetings, and how their collaborators will pile on.

          • Roy Coffey


          • Are you counting your obsessive replies to me? Could you be the one that has OCD? Time to admit you have a problem? That’s the first step….

          • Motoboto Haritoto

            You are kind of OCD, dude. Can’t you just admit it?

            I will keep mum on the “total idiot” theme, but seriously, go back and read your comments. What would your mother say?

          • Oh yay, and here we have the bully collaborators piling in on the witch hunt. Is this fun for you? What would your mother say?

          • Motoboto Haritoto

            She would tell me not to talk to idiot trolls.

          • I went back and read my comments and stand by every single one. I pointed out the bullying of your buddy here as well as the fact that none would defend the victim of the abuse and that people would only pile on. (My mother would agree – she also stands up to bullies.) But hey thanks for calling me an ‘idiot troll’ – this is a good demonstration of the kind of insistent abuse you can expect to be subjected to if you call yourself an ‘addict’ outside of meetings or otherwise question cult orthodoxy. OK now please proceed with ‘ignorant’ ‘insane’ ‘in denial’ and ‘lying’ and see if you make any more progress in defending the cult you claim not to belong to:

          • Motoboto Haritoto

            Doubling down on rude and stupid.

            I see.

            I’ll take my Mom’s advice from here on in. Guess that leaves you needing a new guy to go all OCD on.

          • So now I am ‘stupid’ and ‘idiot’ and now even ‘rude’ for pointing out how the mental illness bullies will call you those names and more if you question their diagnosis of ‘paranoid’ or ‘OCD’ or ‘neurotic’? And then they’ll promise to run away and quickly break their promise because their mommies forgot to teach them to keep their word:

  • painkills2

    This is an interesting discussion, but no matter how experts decide to use the word “addict,” there is no way this word can be erased from public use, regardless of how it’s used. Most people talk about addiction as if it wasn’t a medical condition, because they’ve never really suffered from it. Just like most people use the word “depressed” as if it just means “sad.”

    Should we stop using the word “alcoholic”? Gambling or sex addict? Seems like the shame from the word “addict” mostly belongs to those who use and abuse drugs. But when you think about it, it’s the religious who believe that using or abusing any of these things is some kind of moral failing and requires treatment. I suppose all this shame won’t be taken away until the power and influence that religion now holds in the medical industry is broken. (Yeah, good luck with that.)

    • Kenneth Anderson

      We should absolutely stop using the word “alc**lic” because it is also a horrific, stigmatizing, and marginalizing example of hate speech.

  • Linda-Marie Wiki Westergren

    I am not an addict, the same way people with cancer is not cancer. But regardless if you believe addiction is a disease (that’s another discussion) I do not wish to be reduced to an addict simply as I don’t know what that is. In Sweden where I live it’s illegal to have narcotics in your bloodstream i.e being under the influence. Hence being an ‘addict’ is illegal. This means that all use of drugs regardless of how much and substance make you a criminal, an addict. So if you are a teenager who smoke cannabis sometimes or you have been using heroin for 15 years it doesn’t matter. Yoy are the same type of criminal. But the face of addiction is very diverse. I am a woman and a daughter and a lover but I’m not an addict. I have had problems with drugs in the past but it does not describe who I am in any way. If you say addict today I doubt people get anything other than the stereotypical picture of a run down, haggard person on their mind. And as long as there is stigma around drug use it’s not fair to describe someone as an addict without knowing anything about them.

  • Kenneth Anderson

    Johann–we did not redeem the word “ni**er” and use it to refer to African Americans because the word was beyond redemption. Likewise we did not redeem the word “fa**ot” and use it to refer to gay people because it was beyond redemption. In the same way, the words “a**ict” and “alc**olic” are beyond redemption and I vow never to use them again without the asterisks. The only people who are willing to call themselves “a**ict” or “alc**olic” are those who have been brainwashed into an identity of self-hatred by society and 12 step programs. I am an ex-dependent, ex-problem drinker.

    • April Smith

      Amen brother ! I’m with you and will also only use the words with asterisks.

  • Tom

    Imagine how much money AA and those professionals who cooperate with them can save by ignoring this conversation completely.

  • Sara McGrail

    Just give up. You lost. Move on. Meghan’s right. learning how to do just this one thing (admit you might be wrong) could be a massive step forward for you. Honestly.

  • Mat Southwell

    Thank you for your contribution to the debate Johann Hari. As a drug user, person who uses drugs and drug user activist I share Meghan Ralston concerns with the use of the term addict due to its pathologising and stigmatising nature. However, you struggle to find the best term also resonates with me.

    I work as a global advocate for people who use drugs at the UN. The UN has now adopted the language people who use drugs and derivatives of this such as women who use drugs or people who inject drugs. This follows the path of the UN in using destigmatising language for people living with HIV (not AIDS victims or sufferers), sex workers (not prostitutes) etc. In the world of global advocacy this linguistic shift is important because it asserts that drug users have human rights because we are PEOPLE who use drugs. This is symbolic but also culture shifting. It is part of the UN recognising that the struggle to overcome HIV is hampered by the marginalisation, discrimination and criminalisation of the key affected populations. I sat on the Board on the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) as a civil society representative and heard the delegate of Egypt assert that men who have sex with men, sex workers, people who inject drugs and Trans people do not have rights until they get HIV at which point they have patient rights.

    However, I collaborated with a journalist on a blog for Open Democracy and she questioned my repeated use of the term people who use drugs as being cumbersome. We used it a few times to make the point but then changed it up during the article with drug user, which for me is relatively neutral and descriptive term like sex worker. Even in the UN documents, people who use drugs becomes PWUD!!

    However, I am also a harm reduction worker, drug treatment practitioner and health service manager by background. I work with doctors who use addiction and addicts as medical terminology to describe ‘Substance Use Disorder’, the condition that affects 10% of people who use drugs (UNODC World Drug Report). While, it is important understand that substance use does not equate to substance use disorder, we need not to overlook the needs of those struggling with substance use. Now we can argue about whether this is one condition or drug use coexisting with a whole range of other problematic social, mental health, legal and economic conditions. However, I think we need to be careful not to police our use of language to the point where we don’t describe and advocate for the interests of those struggling with substance use.

    People are unhappy to use the language of addiction (I concur). With language like problem drug use now being proscribed by some (I’m more ambivalent), we are left looking for more useful language. Heavy drug use was put forward by one colleague and I do use this. I also use drug dependency or people who use drugs dependently as a more descriptive and neutral term.

    I think this debate is still unfolding and I think we need to find the right language both to describe people who use drugs as a combined group and also more challengingly find more helpful language to talk specifically about the needs of the 10% of experience ‘problem drug use’ ‘drug dependency’ or ‘substance use disorder’.