Don’t Call Jessica Lareau an Alcoholic. To Her, Words Matter
BU Today 4/2/19
Jessica Lareau used to drink too much. She tried to stop many times, but was unable to on her own. Finally, she sought help. And she has not had a drink in four years. But do not call her an alcoholic. “I’m a person in long-term recovery,” says Lareau, a 28-year-old graduate student in the School of Social Work.
That distinction is significant to her.
She doesn’t believe anyone should be labeled as an alcoholic—or a drug abuser or an addict, for that matter. “That’s stigmatizing language,” says Lareau, who is studying to be a licensed clinical social worker (LICSW) and a licensed alcohol and drug counselor (LADC), “and it reinforces the view that it’s a moral failing and not a disease for which people need treatment.”
People being the crucial word. Label Jessica Lareau an alcoholic and you erase all the other things that define her as a young woman—a BU straight A student from Connecticut, a violinist, a swing dancer, a backpacker, a fly fisherwoman, and a former Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia.
Now, Lareau is on a new mission. This semester she launched a campaign—Support Recovery Initiative—to get SSW faculty, staff, and students to replace that stigmatizing language, in teaching, in conversations, in course curricula, and in field placements, with terms that put the person first, not the illness—as in person in recovery or person with a substance use disorder.
The reception has been overwhelmingly positive. “Language is a social construct,” says Jorge Delva, dean of SSW. “As the context changes, new words come in or old words become obsolete and some words become inappropriate. We’re taking Jessica’s work around substance use disorder as an opportunity to make nonstigmatizing language in all areas a more salient conversation at the school.”
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