While positive affirmations stuck on the bathroom mirror might not motivate everyone, research indicates the language we use to describe ourselves really does have power. For example, do you call yourself an addict or an alcoholic? Advocates of evidence-based treatment suggest that to maintain a healthy long-lasting recovery, using these outdated monikers might not be the best approach.
Why Positive Language Matters
In essence, using positive language and self-talk to describe ourselves has a meaningful impact on three important aspects.
Self-esteem and confidence
When we use words that highlight our strengths, achievements, and potential, it reinforces a positive self-image. This helps build greater self-assuredness and a more optimistic outlook on life. Positive Psychology offers statements such as “I am capable and strong, I can get through this” and “Attempting to do this took courage and I am proud of myself for trying.”
The words we use to describe ourselves shape our self-perception. When we consistently use positive language, we’re more likely to view ourselves in a better light, which fosters a healthier self-concept and a greater sense of self-worth. Happier Human suggests phrases such as “I am intelligent, caring, and desirable,” “I accept myself. My flaws and strengths make me who I am,” and “I am a good mom (or dad) to my kids. I do my very best each and every day,” to name a few.
When we describe ourselves positively, we’re more likely to act in ways that align with those optimistic qualities. For example, if we consistently tell ourselves, “I am a capable and determined person,” we’re more likely to take on challenges with determination and resilience. Medical News Today has other examples of positive self-talk, such as “I am really happy for myself,” “I am doing well,” or “That is not great, but it could be worse.”
Science supports the use of this approach, too. Some studies indicate positive self talk can enhance cognitive ability as long as it’s grounded in constructive confidence. Positive Psychology also references various scenarios, such as MRIs in study subjects that demonstrate an increase in neural pathways when individuals are involved in self-affirmation tasks. Other research indicates they reduce “health-deteriorating stress and rumination, make us more resilient, and reconstruct better life narratives.”
Calling Yourself an Addict or Alcoholic May Damage Your Recovery
Now, consider the impact of negative self-talk. The Cleveland Clinic defines this as “a dialogue in someone’s head is constantly negative, maybe more negative than it is positive.”
Some addiction recovery experts believe using the terms “alcoholic” and “addict” are forms of negative self-talk that actually prohibit successful recovery. Part of the reason is rooted in the stigma involving substance use disorder (SUD), alcohol use disorder (AUD), and mental health conditions. Few of us know how to speak supportively about addiction, labeling someone as a “addict,” “junkie,” “alcoholic,” “drunk,” or “crazy person” instead of talking about an individual with a valid disease. These pejorative terms are reductive, especially when we use them to define ourselves.
Researchers cite all types of adverse reactions to negative self-talk, such as elevation of the stress hormone cortisol which, when combined with altered neurotransmitters, significantly impacts cardiovascular and digestive health, moods, and motivation. The Cleveland Clinic also indicates that having the proverbial “bully in your brain” worsens anxiety and depression symptoms, erodes your self-esteem, and compromises relationships with others.
How to Move Forward
What if you feel that describing yourself as an “addict” or “alcoholic” is a reminder of past behavior you don’t want to repeat? That’s really a personal preference.
But the Partnership to End Addiction (PEA) states that it’s important to reduce labeling. “A person shouldn’t be defined or labeled by his or her disease or illness, it is something they have. For example: instead of calling someone a ‘diabetic,’ it’s preferable to use person-first language and say ‘someone with diabetes.’ The same goes with the word ‘addict’.”
Even major support organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are making strides to change institutional language to remove words such as “addict” and “alcoholic” from their literature.
PEA also believes that when individuals with AUD or SUD take ownership of the language, everything changes for the better. “We will allow people with an addiction to more easily regain their self-esteem and more comfortably seek treatment, allow lawmakers to appropriate funding, allow doctors to deliver better treatment, allow insurers to increase coverage of evidence-based treatment and help the public understand this is a medical condition and should be treated as such.”
If you believe in this concept but aren’t sure where to begin, review the Addictionary from the Recovery Research Institute.
Individualized Quality Care at Fair Oaks
The board-certified professionals at Fair Oaks Recovery Center in Sacramento follow a whole-person treatment philosophy: we believe in treating your body, mind, and spirit with customized solutions for better health. Fair Oaks is a place free of judgment. We don’t criticize or dwell on your past mistakes, since you’ve already taken an important step forward by addressing your need for substance abuse treatment. We offer kind, compassionate, and evidence-based services for individuals suffering from substance and alcohol misuse as well as dual diagnosed mental health disorders such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, or PTSD.