Clear View – The Way We Talk About Addiction & Recovery

In Oxford County, we’re fortunate to have an organized effort to address addiction and help people on the journey to recovery. It’s called the Western Maine Addiction Recovery Initiative (WMARI). The name was recently changed from the Western Maine Addiction Task Force. The change is important, and reflects a focus on Recovery—on the positive potential connected to addiction. Small changes like this can be powerful because the language we use impacts how we think about things.

Another example is in how we talk about addiction. The term substance abuse has been replaced by substance use disorder. This reflects a changing understanding of what the process is really all about. It’s not a person choosing to “abuse” a substance. It’s a person with a disorder that effects how they use a substance. This may seem trivial, but it’s not. Using language that empowers us to think more compassionately about other people and their behavior is a big deal.

There’s a comedian that I like named Mitch Hedberg (who sadly died of an overdose a decade ago). He joked about how alcoholism is the only disease you can get blamed for having, and how ridiculous it would be for someone to yell at you if you had another disease, like Lupus. Sadly, he’s right. I know what it’s like to be affected by the behavior of someone with an addiction, and it’s easy to fall into being angry at that person, into feeling let down. It takes patience, and practice, and a lot of love to understand that people with substance use disorder have a disease and we should want for them what we want for all people who are sick: that they get better and be as healthy and happy as they can be.

At a recent WMARI planning meeting, someone said that what we really need is a recovery-ready community—where we can support people in recovery with housing, employment, education, and more. That seemed to make a lot of sense to everyone in the room. If you want to be part of that effort, contact Healthy Oxford Hills at 739-6222 and ask for Taylor.


Brendan Schauffler is the Network Facilitator for the Oxford County Wellness Collaborative, a group devoted to making Oxford County the healthiest county in Maine and one of the most desirable in which to live, work, and raise children. Want to get involved? You can reach him at 739-6222 or

He works for Healthy Oxford Hills, the local Healthy Maine Partnership and a project of Stephens Memorial Hospital

Reprinted with Permission of the Advertiser Democrat