If you’ve been following our posts this week, you’ll know that we’re on a mission, along with mental health CIC, WarriorKind, to put language into the spotlight with our campaign #Triggered.

Today we want to talk about how language can help fight the stigma surrounding alcohol use disorder.

You see, words like ‘piss head’, ‘heavy drinker’ and ‘alchy’ reinforce negative stereotypes and encourage judgement, blaming and shaming.

According to WarriorKind, fear of stigma and being labelled as an alcoholic can and does prevent people from accessing treatment and support. The use of such language also contributes to poorer treatment outcomes and an increased risk of mental ill-health.

What not to say:

  • Piss head.
  • Heavy Drinker.
  • Alchy.
  • It’s self-inflicted.
  • It’s a weakness.
  • It’s your own fault.

What to say instead:

  • Alcohol use disorder; It’s a generic term that can be applied to all of the different types of alcohol addiction. By using language that focuses on the person, instead of their substance use, you can demonstrate that you respect a person’s agency, dignity and worth.

Why is the language we use surrounding alcohol use disorder so important to help tackle stigma?

Well, first of all, being mindful of the language we use is not about being politically correct. Language is powerful and it is the power of language which makes it an important tool to empower people and fight stigma.

Speaking about her personal experiences of an alcohol use disorder, WarriorKind CEO, Sarah Drage said, “Despite the dangers that we all know about, we continue to glamorise alcohol, promote it freely, and consume it – more so than ever. Meanwhile, cigarettes and tobacco are covered behind a screen with graphic warning labels attached to them, to deter people away from unhealthy and deadly habits. I think that needs to change.”

Sarah founded Warriorkind in 2017 following the loss of her dad who battled with alcohol addiction as a result of his mental health experiences and unlike other mental health organisations, Warriorkind has been designed to offer people a safe community to empower them through their journey; offering support, guidance and a listening ear, whilst signposting them to necessary help and resources.

Image: Will Mellor, supporting WarriorKind’s #Triggered Campaign.

It’s estimated that there are 1.6 million people in the UK who are physically dependant on alcohol, with 86% also experiencing mental health problems. Worryingly, less than a quarter of those who are dependent on alcohol actively seek support, with many stating that stigma and shame prevent them from recovery. What’re more deaths caused by alcohol hit a new high in 2020. Between January and September, 5,460 deaths were registered with this cause – up 16% in the same months in 2019.

While it’s not possible to prove direct causation, Warriorkind also believes that there is certainly a link between the first nationwide lockdown of March – June 2020 and the worsening mental health situation in the UK.

Sarah concluded, “We have to do more to help break down the stigmas surrounding alcoholism and mental health. Now more than ever, we need to be vocal, let people know that it’s ok to ask for help and that there’s no shame in doing so.

Perhaps if collectively we could show more encouragement and understanding, then those 1.6 million dependant drinkers in the UK may feel empowered to seek support and stay on track to a wonderful life of sobriety.”


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