Addiction Culture: Life as an Addict Battling Substance Abuse
by Chelsy Ranard
Every addict has a different story, is reading a different page, has a different writing style, flips the pages at their own pace, and writes about different characters. Addiction doesn’t have one face, one family, one circumstance, or one location. The view that society has on addiction is one shrouded in misconception, hyperbole, negativity, and blame. Many of these stigmas exist due to profiles of addicts created by programs meant to deter drug use, pictures painted by the media, and second-hand experience with addiction. The issue with this is that addiction has been linked with shame and embarrassment making addicts find it harder to find help and be transparent about their issues in order to make the journey into recovery and acceptance.
Taking a step into the culture of addiction involves understanding addiction as a whole. Addiction doesn’t just happen to people with a tumultuous past, a history of addiction in their family, people born in low-income areas, or those with mental illness. It is a common misconception that addicts lack principles or willpower. Addiction is a complex disease that affects the brain in a way that makes quitting a difficult task far beyond the use of willpower. The chemical compounds that make up the substances in question tap into the brain and messes with its communication system and overstimulating the reward centers of the brain. In some long-term cases the substances being used are causing permanent neurological damages to these areas of the brain making quitting even more difficult than before.
Some people tend to have a predisposition to addiction and others seem to be immune to the powers of these chemicals. The reason for this difference is different for everyone. Biology may have a factor in how the brain reacts to these chemicals, social environments associated with drug use have a factor, and so does a person’s physical development during substance use. There are arguments for both the nurture and the nature side of addiction and many studies have been done proving that both biological and environmental factors have to do with a person’s tendency towards addiction.
The Journey to Recovery
The steps that an addict takes on the road to recovery are different for everyone, but commonly filled with heartache, pain, health issues, family problems, and deep emotional issues. Whether or not each person’s history of drug abuse starts with emotional instability, it tends to end with it. Addiction is a disease that affects everything around it including loved ones. Addicts that are in the grips of addiction tend to find themselves at the mercy of their substance of choice and make poor decisions because of it. Their mental state is compromised while they are using as well as when they aren’t using for many addicts.
Once an addict is working towards recovery it is still a bumpy road dealing with withdrawal symptoms, making amends with family, attending a recovery program, and seeking support from the loved ones that they may have neglected or treated poorly while using. It’s important to understand that this point of addiction is vital for addicts and is a journey that some have to take many times. It’s a vital time, however, when an addict is either forced to seek recovery or chooses to seek recovery. It can be a hindrance for them during a physically and emotionally tumultuous time to also deal with the label put on them in society once their issue is made public to others.
The Stigma in Society
The public view on addiction is a negative one and can work against those struggling with addiction, those wanting to seek help, and those in the recovery process. It is a positive thing to have addiction be a conversation that can happen openly and without negative connotations connected to it. Unfortunately, though, addiction is a dark and unhealthy place. The problem persists when an addict is defined by those preconceived notions and others have issues separating the substance use from the person. The goal needs to be substance abuse prevention, encouraging a dialogue about the realities of addiction, and more education about the causes of addiction.
Addiction does not have all of the characteristics of any other disease, however, and therein lies the confusion about how to treat those with substance abuse issues. When we think of disease we think of a health issue that cannot be helped and, therefore, those suffering from it cannot be at fault. Addicts, on the other hand, have to be held accountable for their actions in order to recover appropriately. Families suffer with codependency and enabling issues as a result of being confused by the proper way to handle addiction in their loved ones. The key is to be understanding while also holding them accountable for their own behavior and being supportive while not enabling.
In order to create positive change in addiction culture, there needs to be a change in society’s mindset. We need to stop seeing addiction as a taboo subject and start facing the issue head on. More addicts in recovery are stepping out and having conversations about their issues with substance abuse, sharing their story, and promoting positive change in the way our country views addiction. The main concern with substance use has always been the “War on Drugs” mindset, the idea that prevention is the only way to stop this issue. Prevention is vitally important, but so is encouraging those using to ask for help and to feel safe to do so.
As of now, addiction centers are common in society, social workers are passionate about their role in controlling drug addiction, and drug addiction advocacy is more common in addiction culture. There are still programs that shine a negative light on those battling addiction in order to prevent substance abuse, but there are also more open discussions by real people in recovery to put a more realistic face on the poster child of addiction.
Addiction is not a mask that every person wears while battling with substance abuse. Everyone’s story is different and every person deserves to be heard and treated with respect regardless of their past with addiction. Encourage the conversation, ask questions, research, and share your story with others. The more people that defy the stereotype of addiction the more people will see that addiction looks different on everyone, and everyone deserves to be looked at like a human. Applaud recovery, encourage treatment, and inspire those around you to look outside the stigma in order to take a part in the positive changes associated with addiction culture.
Chelsy is a writer from Montana who is now living in beautiful Boise, Idaho. She graduated with her journalism degree in 2012 from the University of Montana. She is passionate about animal welfare, enjoys volunteering at Simply Cats in Boise, and spends her time having at-home therapy sessions with her animals.Follow her on Twitter!