The Language of Addiction

I have learned a great deal about addiction and recovery at my field placement – The Healing Place of Wake County (

One of the things that has fascinated me the most is a way that our participants use language triggers to keep their healing techniques in the forefront of their thoughts.  The participants in our recovery program work through the traditional Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step curriculum as well as a program of study called “Recovery Dynamics”.
The principles of these programs can be complex and must be personally internalized in order to be effective.  Over many years of application, students of these programs have developed language triggers, or quick sayings, that speak to more complex ideas.
The sayings serve as meaningful reminders whenever a person needs to draw upon the strength of the particular lesson or share some experience, strength, and hope with a fellow person in recovery.  In a moment of crisis or temptation a simple saying can trigger a larger thought that can help a person combat their addictive impulses.

I love this approach to continually implement important lessons in one’s life, and I have started to use it myself.  I’ve included some examples below.

“Do the next right thing” Battling addiction can be brutally difficult.  When in a time of crisis an addict is prone to absolute thinking.  The one thought is that they have that drink and ruin their lives along with whatever time of sobriety they’ve accumulated.  The other thought is that they hold out, and are up against the stress of today, the expectations of their family and friends, how they’ll meet all their obligations tomorrow and on into the future.  This type of absolute thinking can get dangerously overwhelming.  The way to combat this is just to do the next right thing.  Get out of bed.  Brush your teeth.  Take a shower.  Have a healthy meal.  Don’t worry about tomorrow, or next week, or even later today.  Just do the one next right thing.  If they keep that up they can outlast the time of crisis and progress in their sobriety.

“If you hang around the barber shop long enough, you’ll get a haircut” Don’t put yourself in a position where your drug of choice is prevalent.  It sounds simple, but it’s important.  Make a point to notice for one day the number of places you pass where you have access to alcohol.  An addict is keenly aware of all of these places, and needs to have a variety of coping mechanisms to avoid and resist the craving to use.

“It’s not alcoholwasm. It’s alcoholism” Once, an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.  This principle has been in place since the first printing of The Big Book.  However a 2014 study proved that there are differences in a person’s brain when comparing their scans pre and post addiction.  I was not able to track down the article, but our chief medical officer at The Healing Place mentioned it at a meeting, so I will have a chance to follow-up with him.

And I just liked the way these sounded…

You can be a hopeless dope fiend or a dopeless hope fiend.

Suit up and Show up, Don’t shoot up and throw up.

On a related note, the language of recovery can be a very effective tool for those interested in advocating on behalf of this community.  Faces and Voices of Recovery is a wonderful non-profit organization that works in this space.  Here is a link to their recovery messaging training materials.

Keep on keepin’ on,



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