Singer and actress Demi Lovato was rushed to the hospital on July 24th after an overdose. On September 7th, rapper, singer and record producer Mac Miller died of a suspected overdose. These are just two of the most recent examples of the tragic effects of addiction. Many other public figures and celebrities have died of overdoses, including Prince, Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, and Tom Petty just to name a few.
And countless people succumb to addiction each year. People who aren’t famous, people who didn’t get to leave a mark because addiction took everything from them. According to the Center for Disease Control, more than 70,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017. According to the most recent publicized National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2016, drug use has been increasing. They found that 7.9% of American adolescents aged 12 to 17 were current users of illicit drugs in that year alone.
Despite the tragedy surrounding addiction, it’s still a stigmatized taboo topic. And oftentimes instead of being supportive and empathetic towards sufferers, people are often cruel and quick to judge someone struggling, someone who might be in desperate need of help. Oftentimes, addiction is seen as a choice.
Both the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association state that addiction is a health condition. A DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) criteria for substance use disorders is “wanting to cut down or stop using the substance but not managing to.” Addiction can be a lifelong battle for some people, people who desperately want to get better and live normal, healthy lives.
I’m no scientist; I can’t go into detail about the neurochemistry and anatomy of an addicted brain and the genetic predispositions that cause some people to become addicted and others not. But I know what the scientific and medical consensus is and I’m choosing to listen to the experts, and to the people with lived experiences. Whether it’s a choice or not, judging and berating people for what they’re going through isn’t likely to help. But being compassionate, educating yourself and never assuming you know what it’s like for someone going through it is. We have to do better and be kinder to people who are suffering, often in silence. We need to foster a safe space in which they can tell their stories unedited and feel welcomed and loved.
Image credit: lakehouserecoverycenter.com