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How Language Impacts Mental Health and Recovery

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Language has a powerful impact on mental health, and even similar thoughts or ideas can carry entirely different connotations depending on the language used. For those suffering from addiction and mental health disorders, changing this language can be the first step to making a profound change in their mentality and recovery goals. 

Destigmatizing the language around addiction, as well as identifying self-destructive language in an individual, can create powerful changes in recovery. Overcoming problematic language can be the beginning of a positive perspective of recovery. It is instrumental in maintaining motivation and confidence as individuals navigate their recovery from detox and residential treatment through outpatient care. 

Deconstructing the Language of Addiction

The word “addiction” still has many stigmas attached to it. While there have been strides to change the language surrounding those suffering from addiction, many outdated, harmful words are still used. Words like “addict” and “junkie” have long been derogatory for a variety of reasons. Their destructive potential was even recognized by the United States federal government in an official document to change the language surrounding addiction and recovery. Even if the federal language has changed, these harmful words are still used colloquially, even by those supporting a loved one in recovery. 

Avoiding Labels

Hurtful terms like “addict” are most destructive due to their ability to deconstruct an individual’s identity, distilling them to a single label. In this case, referring to someone as an addict is tying an individual’s identity to a disease rather than their personality or accomplishments. 

For those suffering from addiction, hearing or believing that their identity is tied to their use of addictive substances has a number of negative effects. Some may find it difficult to imagine an identity free from the use of these substances if such use has been used to label them. Others may accept this derogatory mindset and engage in harmful, self-destructive beliefs that belittle themselves and their identities. 

Change the Words

Instead, treating addiction and mental health disorders as a disease affecting an individual rather than a defining characteristic is a much more supportive stance. An individual “struggling from addiction” is much different than an “addict,” and leaves room for an individual’s identity to be celebrated while highlighting addiction as a disease separate from their identity. 

For those helping friends, family, and loved ones navigate their sobriety, adopting more supportive language has a great effect on a loved one’s mental and emotional health through an already difficult recovery journey. 

Identifying Self-Destructive Language

Language also impacts an individual internally, helping shape their thoughts and beliefs. There is no shortage of stress throughout recovery. Even while navigating daily life, self-destructive language can further complicate an individual’s emotional health. Language like “I can’t do this,” leaves little room for discourse and can become self-fulfilling prophecies. 

It can be difficult for individuals to believe in or motivate themselves for something if they already believe that such efforts are fruitless. It compromises the development of effective coping skills, new experiences, therapeutic practices, or even making meaningful connections with others. 

Replacing similar thoughts with language like “This may be hard,” still share a similar sentiment, but also leave room for possibility and change. This bit of wiggle room in an individual’s perspective can promote a healthy approach to new ideas, perspectives, and practices for coping with addiction and mental health disorders. 

Identifying absolutist words can also have a similar effect. Using words like “never,” “always,” and “definitely,” all speak to an absolute mindset, making it difficult for other ideas or nuances to process. An individual may want to make significant changes in their life, pursue a sober mindset, or challenge anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. Yet, it can be difficult to commit themselves to recovery efforts if their language does not create a mental space amicable to new ideas and perspectives. 

Creating a New Language in Recovery

Adopting strategies to adjust internal or spoken language is instrumental for individuals to create new ideas and beliefs in themselves. Journaling can be a powerful way to see one’s thoughts written out. It can be easier to identify problematic words or ideas that may act counter to a person’s goals for recovery. Being able to edit words and create a language that is more supportive of an individual’s goals is crucial for changing their perspective.

Practicing this new language out loud is also beneficial. By rehearsing phrases like “it’s possible,” and “I can do this,” an individual can normalize the practice, making the implementation of positive language more habitual in their mind. Creating more positive language, while dismissing harmful language and derogatory words and titles, can create a more positive, uplifting, and effective journey to recovery and sobriety.

Language and mental health are intimately tied, and changing your language can have major implications for your success in recovery. At Pacific Sands Recovery Center, we understand the need to make a truly transformative impact each and every day. From imparting new coping strategies to helping you pursue your own personal goals, adjusting language is just one part of creating a new, positive, sober perspective. By helping you create a more supportive view of yourself, we can further help you personalize your recovery efforts and maintain the positive transformation each and every day. By combining practices to change your beliefs, coupled with experiential, individual, and group therapies, we create a supportive atmosphere conducive to the changes you want to make in your recovery and sobriety. For more information on how we can help you, call to speak to a caring, trained staff member today at (714) 492-1119.

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