I’m speaking from my experience. I’ve seen it countless times. An addict, that stereotype drug addict on the street, a prostitute, a thief, someone who commits crimes, and has used every person that ever came near them.
The person that I just described has tremendous potential. Inside them lies experience, strength and will power that if ignited, if realized, would re-birth a human being that’s stronger, smarter, and more intuitive than before they were consumed by their addiction. Someone who has gained an understanding of a life that is pure suffering and how an innocent child or an adolescent can slip into the addictive process long before they are aware they are becoming a drug addict/alcoholic.
No addict “chose that lifestyle.” Addiction doesn’t happen overnight. It is a cunning process that starts within the brain and slowly becomes stronger over years or decades. As the symptoms of the addiction start to become apparent to everyone else in the addict’s life, their family and friends might start to express concern. The addict “knows” that they can’t possibly be a drug addict/alcoholic because society has told them that these are “weak” and “bad” people. Hence, every time another addictive tendency surfaces the addict constructs one more defense mechanism to deny or justify it.
Defense mechanisms are the foundation of addictive thinking. Anyone who has ever known someone in active addiction can tell you that it is amazing and scary how a drug addict thinks. This is because, slowly over time they have added these defense mechanisms to their cognitive schema, or their thought process. Little by little these defense mechanisms are added, because the addiction is taking over, but the addict knows they are not the stereotype low-life that society has said that drug addicts are. They are real people living among family and friends; holding jobs, and raising kids.
The stigma of addiction (of any type) keeps people in the dark for too long. In time the addiction progresses (it always progresses) and the power of choice is lost before the addict is aware that they are an addict (I’m referring to all types of addiction, including alcoholism).
Now let’s fast forward to recovery. Because there’s no other option, besides death. They say institutions are an option, but that’s only temporary and let’s be honest, drugs seem to make their way into institutions pretty easily. Many institutions also offer recovery programs within them as well. So those of you who think that drug addicts are going to live off the system for the rest of their lives are really inaccurate. With the potency of the drugs on the streets of Dayton and Cincinnati Ohio there are only two options: death or recovery. Housing these individuals in prison and jail without treatment options is the only way they can prolong the time that they are “living on taxpayer dollars.” Getting people into recovery sooner will get them back into society sooner.
And now we have the individual I mentioned earlier, with tremendous insight, awareness, and passion that is fueled by a gratitude for life and the little things that the average person will never have. Addicts in recovery have a perspective on daily life that is so positive and hopeful, because they know how to be happy with the things that the “average Joe” takes for granted. These are people who want to give back, help other struggling addicts and reintegrate into their families, communities and into society.
These are the individuals who can REALLY fight this opioid epidemic as well as all other forms of addiction. These are the ones who can help to education the community, the younger generations, and politicians on what helps, what works, and what does not.
It’s time that we throw away all of our old beliefs about addiction and get ready to start making progress. The old way doesn’t work. Stigmatizing addicts, medication assisted treatment and constricting them from receiving treatment, punishing them more and letting them die are all old ways of thinking that are fueling the problem. How do I know this? Because it’s getting worse. Despite the overwhelming number of deaths in Ohio, the epidemic is getting worse, so we are doing something wrong as a society. If you think this doesn’t apply to you, you’re wrong. Addiction permeates all socioeconomic classes, every cultural background and every corner of society. And whether you like it or not, your tax payer dollars are funding the penal system. So let’s get people out of the system, into treatment and give them the opportunity to live healthy productive lives as meaningful members of society.