In 1987, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) chose the month of April as Alcohol Awareness Month to provide education for the public to reduce stigma. At The Morton Center, we treat hundreds of clients each year seeking treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder. Our clinical team provides individualized treatment plans focusing on the whole person, not just their challenges with alcohol use. Each client and his or her family is treated with respect and compassion, which provides a reassuring antidote to the significant levels of internalized shame developed when struggling with substance abuse. We discuss shame frequently at The Morton Center and encourage our clients to share their full spectrum of emotions, including shame and guilt.
Brene Brown, PsyD/LMSW, explained it best in her popular TED talk : “Shame is the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging. The difference between shame and guilt is the difference between ‘I am bad’ and ‘I did something bad.’” Shame is always toxic and destructive, whereas healthy guilt can often motivate individuals to make amends or choose different behaviors.
Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding substance abuse often adds to this cycle of shame. Persons with alcohol use disorder are often portrayed as defective, weak, angry, or worthless by Hollywood, media, and even specific religious organizations. We can reduce stigma by making one small change in the way we speak about it. Rather than saying, “He is an alcoholic,” or “She is an addict,” we could say “A person struggling with alcohol use disorder,” or “A person struggling with addiction.” It may seem trivial at first glance, but our words matter. The former language labels a person harshly. The latter language defines the person not by their struggle but expresses one aspect of their nuanced and multi-faceted human story. By focusing on a client’s positive attributes and strengths, treating the whole person, and reducing stigma, we create a safe and encouraging environment for sharing and healing.

Thanks for reading,

Ashley Peak M.D.
Addiction Psychiatrist/ Medical Director
The Morton Center