What Is the Difference Between Describing and Characterizing?
by 449 Staff

When you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, it can be easy to slip into the mindset that certain behaviors are just part of who you are or who your loved one is. It can be easy to blame someone for their addiction or characterize it as a choice they make because they are a bad person.

The truth is far from this and filled with complexities. Millions of Americans have been diagnosed with substance use disorders (SUDs). There are a lot of myths, stereotypes, and stigmas tied to addiction. Debunking these with the truth can help people understand that SUD and addiction are diseases that are beyond people’s control. They are issues that should be dealt with kindly and without judgment.

Addiction Is Not a Choice 

There are endless circumstances in which someone could be first introduced to drugs and/or alcohol. Sure, initially it may be the person’s decision to try these substances. People are curious by nature, and curiosity is an excellent trait in many aspects of life. Someone might be at a party or on vacation somewhere when the opportunity to try a substance presents itself. The human mind can be predisposed to addiction and other mental health disorders, and more times than not, these issues are not realized until after the addiction has been diagnosed.

Drugs Change the Way Your Brain Interacts With Your Body 

Drugs and alcohol can change the way that the brain sends signals to the central nervous system. The chemicals that drugs are made from also manipulate the way that the body receives messages, and the communication can end up exaggerated and contorted. When someone is addicted to a substance, their decision-making process is drastically altered.

Though addiction should not be left untreated or its severity downplayed, you are not helping anyone who struggles with this by criticizing or judging them as if the choice to use a substance again is because they are a bad or incapable person. Addiction is a brain disease, and people who have it deserve to be treated with empathy. This is true even if the person who struggles with addiction, who you want to unfairly criticize, is yourself.

Behaviors of Those Struggling With Addiction 

Although it may seem like those struggling with addiction have a shift in their personality, the changes are the result of their disease. Addiction commonly causes harmful behaviors such as being unable to stop consuming the substance, denying that they have an issue with said substance, lacking emotional awareness, and going to great lengths to achieve more of the substance they are misusing. While you may want the person to stop these behaviors immediately, it can be unfair and pointless to try to hold them accountable without seeking help from professionals first. 

It can be difficult to approach a loved one who is exhibiting one or more of these behaviors. Blaming them for having this issue may seem like the easiest solution, but reacting in that way will not benefit anyone in the situation.

When you want to discuss an addiction-related behavior, understand that it is possible to describe a behavior that you or someone else engages in and point out its harm without characterizing the person in a negative light. Remember that harmful behaviors are the result of a brain disease and should be treated as symptoms of any other illness. Recognize that reaffirming the worth of your loved ones and encouraging them to get help will be more beneficial to them than criticism or judgment. If it is you who struggles with these behaviors, treat yourself with the same courtesy and understanding you would give someone you love.

Characterizing With Substance Use Disorder 

There are distinct characteristics that coincide with being diagnosed with substance use disorder. Just as someone may become unpleasant and lethargic when diagnosed with the flu or a cold, but they will eventually recover and no longer experience those behaviors, those with SUD will no longer be emotionally reckless or manipulative once they too recover. By associating these behaviors with the disorder, not the person, you are showing people that who they are is more than their addiction and that they can become healthier versions of themselves.

Understanding the difference between what people struggling with addiction can and can’t control is essential to understanding how you can help and support them through their time of need. The person you knew before the addiction is still there. They are just exhibiting the effects of a terrible disease. Patience and empathy for yourself or loved ones are important for the journey to sobriety.

How to Help Yourself and Your Loved Ones 

One of the best ways to help a loved one dealing with addiction is to educate yourself on substance use disorder and recovery. Understanding how these issues affect people can make it easier to accept and support them. Seeking support is useful because addiction affects everyone involved in the person’s life, and taking care of your own mental health is important.

There may have been ways you enabled your loved one before or during the addiction. It is crucial to learn how you were enabling them and break these habits to help them heal. Create realistic expectations for your loved ones so you do not set them up for failure in your eyes. Recovering from addiction is one of the most difficult things they may have to go through, and it is paramount to understand that.

Addiction is not a choice, but you can choose whether or not you will support loved ones during some of their darkest times. Help them be the best versions of themselves, for themselves, and for everyone around them.

What is the difference between describing behavior and characterizing behavior? The line between the two may be more confusing than one would think. Understanding the distinction could mean the difference between a loved one struggling with substance use disorder receiving the help and support they need or continuing to struggle. There are certain behaviors that someone can display as a result of the addiction, and there are personality characteristics that people possess regardless of their situation. It is important to remember who the person is and not what the addiction has pushed them to be for now. Learn more about these issues so you can show up and support your loved ones in their time of need. It is okay to be scared, and it is okay to ask for help. Call 449 Recovery at (949) 435-7449 today to learn more.