Stop calling people junkies

Donal Corrigan

The word 'junkie' is a dehumanising and distancing term.

Most of us are guilty of saying it. “Did you see that gas video of that junkie?”, “Look at the state of that junkie”, or the line from Dublin rap duo Versatile’s song ‘We Sell Brown’, where they proclaim: “We’re the reason your ma’s a fat junkie.” The video has over 2.5 million views.

Junkie is a word many of us use everyday. It brings a distinct image of a certain type of person into our head. It’s the backbone of a good story, the punchline of a joke or a slag we use with our mates. It’s about time we realise how dangerous this rotten word is.

 The casual nature in which we use this word highlights two problems with our society. We don’t understand addiction and labeling is still poisoning our society.

 Labels like this are used to distance ourselves from people, not to understand them. It’s a lot easier to make a caricature of someone rather than sympathise with their problems. If we can think of someone as a junkie, we no longer feel responsible for them. Yet when someone close to us suffers from addiction, this word would not even cross our minds.

So where do labels come from and why do we use them?

In sociology this practice is known as the labeling theory. It sets out that labels come generally from people of the opposite social status as you. The label is created by people higher up and passed to down the social or economic rungs of society.

For example, plantation owners in America labeled their slaves with a host of names that probably sat better in their conscience than ‘a human being in captivity’. It is easier distance yourself from a group of people for your own personal gain with dehumanising nicknames.

This sinister practice has been inflicted on almost every minority. From the LGBT community to Jewish people to African Americans, all have been reduced to a variety of degrading words. You yourself probably have a label that other groups of people have referred to you as at some point.

Where does the word ‘junkie’ fit into all of this? If labels are given by the opposing group, why do we see ourselves as the opposite of people suffering from addiction?

We simply don’t understand addiction. Labeling is our cosy blanket of ignorance that protects from the cold reality. Addiction is a sickness. It’s a reaction to pain, to abuse and to loneliness.

It is commonly misunderstood that substances such as heroin are addictive purely because of their chemical structure. Consider what is going on around the needle and not what is in it. Think about the person’s environment that brings them to the needle.

During the Vietnam War, 20 per cent of American soldiers were addicted to heroin, according to a study. There should have been an epidemic when they returned home but this heroin crisis never happened when they came back. 95 per cent of them went into remission when they returned. Why?

Drug addiction is often times a reaction to your environment. Most of us are not addicts because we have something to get out of the bed in the morning for. We have friends, family, exams and jobs. “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection,” said Swedish journalist Johann Hari.

So are people without human connection merely junkies? You can wrap yourself in a blanket of labeling and ignorance or you can get out of bed and start understanding addiction.

Donal Corrigan

Image credit: Orange.biz