This is a general term to describe the often complicated and challenging lives of people who have a substance use problem (and/or other significant issues like for example, street homelessness).
Such lives can be very challenging, involve a lot of complex engagements and relationships with peers, family and services and can be unpredictable in the sense that unscheduled events can occur that impact on routines etc. They may appear to outsiders as unmanaged, unmanageable or chaotic.
However, the term is contested and is viewed by some as unhelpful. Describing such lives as chaotic may be unhelpful if it is inferred that they are not or cannot be managed to any degree. People in these situations have often developed a range of skills and means to ensure they can control their life and survive. It demeans people and their efforts to manage their day to day lives to describe them as chaotic. It is unhelpful to suggest that they cannot control aspects of their lives or that they cannot be supported by others in doing this.
It may also be felt that the term is inaccurate as the routine of seeking and getting drugs and then using them is, for some, all-too predictable and part of a long-standing daily routine. If the term is used to ‘other’ people then it may contribute to the stigmatisation of people who are already marginalised.
There is the potential for poor service design and delivery in viewing people’s lives as chaotic. (see ‘hard to reach’).