The words we use to describe alcoholism and drug addiction evolve with social, political and scientific change. Alcoholism and drug addiction have been the subject of huge social scorn and condemnation. People who cannot control their alcohol consumption and others who use other addictive drugs bring tragedy upon not only themselves, but also to their loved ones and society as a whole.
Eighty years ago as people began to recover for the first time, their stories became better understood. Medicine began to advocate for greater research as the biological causes of this “disease” were discovered. Prejudice, judgement and shame slowly subsided as solutions began to be uncovered; hope replaced disgrace.
Terms change as greater information is uncovered. Professionals from medicine, psychology, sociology, criminology, theology, etc. bring unique perspectives to the far reaching impacts of alcohol and drug abuse. The words we now describe “Substance Use Disorder” attempts to diminish stigma while capturing the essential characteristics of the disorder which includes a continuum of intensity and severity.
What was once a hopeless condition viewed as sinful, weak, criminal, deviant, crazy is now viewed as a chronic, relapsing medical disease which has far reaching impact. Alcoholism and drug addiction became chemical abuse or dependent. Substance abuse and dependency is now considered substance abuse disorder. This new concept describes a continuum of symptoms from mild to severe, allowing each individual unique characteristics and consequences.