Addiction is one of the most wide-spread and deadly problems known to man. The opioid epidemic is now being compared to the Black Death which was responsible for killing a third of Europeans between 1346 and 1353. We have come to a grave reality: this is everyone’s problem. Addiction permeates every socioeconomic class, cultural background, and generation. NBC Nightly News ran a story on Montgomery County Ohio calling it “America’s most opioid addicted county.” The coroner for Montgomery County Ohio stated that Montgomery county is estimating around 2000 overdose deaths this year alone.
With People dropping like flies all around me, I can’t help but wonder why it’s so hard to believe that addicts have lost their power to choose?
Blaming is easy and provides grounds for an individual to justify silencing that little voice inside them that’s telling them to feel empathy and compassion for those suffering from addiction. Caring is taxing. Not caring is just easier.
Patting myself on the back for not being a addict and complaining about the toll addicts have on society is a large part of the problem. Here’s why:
Over 99.99% of Americans try mood altering substances whether its alcohol, marijuana, pain medication, anxiety medication, etc. Not matter what the purpose of ingesting one of these substances, around 13% of the population will become addicted.
We all made the same decision to try a drink or a joint at some point, but 42.5 million of us had a completely different reaction than the others. One that ignited the addictive process.
No one is aware that they have the perfect storm of factors that will cause expression of the addictive process within their brain when they pick up for the first time (“pick-up” is an expression used to describe using any mood altering substance for recreational purposes). Addiction is a slow and subtle process. When the first signs of chemical dependency first rear their ugly heads, no one reacts to it by saying “wow, I’m clearly becoming addicted and I need to get help before this gets out of control.”
When I was growing up I learned that “druggies” and “junkies” were criminals and “bad people.” I was told that people are losers and the chose this path of crime…So now if I’m starting to notice signs of addiction as a teenager, a young adult or an older adult, my reaction isn’t to get help, because I’m a good person! I can’t be an addict! I’m educated, I have a family, I came from a good home, society said that addicts are bad people and I know I’m not a bad person. So I CAN’T be an addict. I just need to get my (drinking, use of anxiety medication, or use of pain medication, etc.) under control.
This is how the complex system of denial and other cognitive distortion (the lifeblood of addiction) starts.
Addiction will progress through stages. It can take years or even decades before someone morphs from a loving mother, a family man, a college student into that stereotypical image of an addict: a prostitute on the street; a homeless man on the corner begging for money…
No one wanted this life. No one chose to be an addict. Once the addiction is ignited in the brain, it will progress. Societal stigma of the “weak will” and “poor character” of addicts will prevent millions of people from realizing they have a problem before the consequences are so severe that they have only four choices left: jails, institutions, death, or recovery.
Should someone be fortunate enough to make it through the doors of a treatment program, they will soon find that once they get through the withdrawal, now they’re faced with intense and debilitating shame from having harmed so many people over the course of their addiction. This shame stems from the foundation of good morals and values within the individual; knowing and caring about right from wrong. Once separated from drugs, most recovering addicts will refer to their action in active addiction as “insane.” Before addiction is just that. It is insanity. No one in active addiction or early recovery is in their right mind.
What would you do if you were insane?
What if we lifted the judgement we place on those suffering from addiction? Does that relinquish their responsibility to get help? Of course not. I so commonly hear people debating about addiction with one argument seemingly always being “they need to take responsibility for their actions, and if we forgive them and offer empathy, that’s just going to give them an excuse to continue to be an addict and do these destructive things” (or something to that affect). Decriminalizing addiction, calling addiction a disease, offering empathy and compassion does NOT absolve the individual from taking responsibility for their own recovery.
I have anxiety. No one is making me feel ashamed for having anxiety. But it’s still my responsibility to take care of my ongoing treatment and betterment of myself to combat my anxiety so that it doesn’t take over my life again. “But you’re not out committing crimes because you have anxiety.” True. But, I’m in my right mind, thanks to those who offered me compassion, provided treatment and lead me to empowerment.