The Labels We Use

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February 9, 2013 by Dr. Bob Weathers

In the spirit of my earlier suggestions, in a previous blog, on transformative learning —including operating with “beginner’s mind” and engaging in this blog’s materials as an active mentor — here’s a new insight I wish you share:

“The effects of alcohol are experienced biologically for as long as the ethanol remains in the body.  The liver is the major organ responsible for eliminating, or detoxifying, alcohol.  The main job of the liver is to metabolize or excrete toxins, processing ethanol as a toxin to the system; hence the appropriate term, ‘intoxicated’” (quoted from Capuzzi & Stauffer, Foundations of Addiction Counseling).

What struck me in reviewing this material, in the spirit of beginner’s mind, was the use of the word “intoxicated.”  Don’t ask me why, but it never dawned on me so powerfully or clearly that this word has as its root another word, namely, “toxin” or “toxic.”

Our livers operate to remove toxins, literally, poisons, from our bodies.  When we take in intoxicants, like drugs or alchohol, we are in fact poisoning our bodies; then counting on our livers to fix the situation!

This line of thinking led me to the following Topic for Reflection:

Besides the word “intoxicated,” what might be some other terms for drug and alcohol use, particularly in excess, which have a similar, possibly deeper meaning?  Words that we may not pay much attention to, but which nevertheless cue us into the toxic, or poisoning, nature of such substances?

Some words came to mind easily, all of which are used commonly, often with tongue in cheek: “wasted,” “destroyed,” “fried,” “obliterated,” “hammered,” “smashed,” “wrecked.”

How many others, similar to the above, can you come up with quickly?  And maybe most important: how do such culturally acceptable terms perhaps cover over the seriousness of more severe addiction and abuse?  Literally, our taking in toxins?

Do such terms make it easier in our culture, and our language, to enable more serious addiction and substance abuse?  After all, such terms can even connote coolness, or a badge of courage.

If, on the other hand, it is we ourselves who are addicted, does such language aid in our possibly denying the seriousness of our situation?

I recently read how in Eastern philosophy there are “Five Precepts” of morality; their code of ethics not unlike the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments. 

The Fifth Precept, foundational for the other four, states simply: abstain from all intoxicants.  The assumption is that a poisoned body and mind is in no position to make sound moral decisions and choices otherwise. 

Intoxication = in-toxin-take?

Worth thinking about! 


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