Overheard in the cafeteria this morning “……things would be better if he would just stop. I don’t understand why he just can’t stop using”. I wanted to butt in and give my two cents to another of the misinformed, but walked away and kept my mouth shut. It got me thinking about addiction, and my brain started to think about “famous people” dying from the disease and the public misconceptions that swirl around these deaths.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is the most recent in a long list of ‘famous people’ (actors) that died from a drug overdose where the toxicology report determined they were addicted to prescription drugs. I am not an addict, but like many people have some addictive behaviors. Many of us have some sort of an addictive ‘thing’ we do all the time (a certain food we eat, a TV show we can’t stop watching, cleaning our home, washing our car, etc.). My goal here is not to talk about addiction to drugs as I have no experience with that. I am frustrated how so many people think addiction is a personal and moral failure. “Just stop using” so many people say, without having a clue about what that really means.
Addiction is real and not easy to ‘beat’ or control. Addicts don’t beat the disease. All they can do is keep it at bay. When an addict is sober they are not recovered, they are in recovery. This is a disease that stays with them the rest of their lives, always lurking in the background, waiting for a weak moment to strike. The FIRST step of any 12 step program talks about the admission of being powerless over the disease.
Russell Brand (who I am starting to respect) recently said:
“The mentality and behavior of drug addicts and alcoholics is wholly irrational until you understand that they are completely powerless over their addiction and unless they have structured help they have no hope.”
People have said that Hoffman must have been depressed, otherwise why would he use drugs (he was, after all, a ‘famous person’, and famous people don’t have problems). We don’t know what was going on inside his head so it is a waste of time to jump to conclusions. People need to understand that addicts don’t choose to become addicts, that this IS a disease and there needs to be greater empathy towards people struggling with it.
As a society we need to do a MUCH better job helping the addicts in our lives stay sober. There must be more empathy and less stigmatism. It really bothers me when I read or hear someone say that ‘all they need to do is stop drinking/drugging’ and they will be better. Tell that to an addict and they may respond that you should stop eating or sleeping. To an addict, using is just an important to them as eating and sleeping is to us, and we need to find better ways to help them.
Addicts are people to. They have jobs, families, friends, hopes and dreams. They deserve our love and support, and not people who turn their backs on them. As with any disease, they need our help, and don’t need to be locked up in a jail cell or isolated in a dark hotel room somewhere because they think nobody cares about them. When they reach their bottom they need to be able to shout out and someone will be there to reach out a hand to pull them out of the rabbit hole and get them the help they need.
And, one more time, back to Russell Brand:
“Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death is a reminder, though, that addiction is indiscriminate. That it is sad, irrational and hard to understand. What it also clearly demonstrates is that we are a culture that does not know how to treat its addicts. Would Hoffman have died if this disease were not so enmeshed in stigma? If we weren’t invited to believe that people who suffer from addiction deserve to suffer? Would he have OD’d if drugs were regulated, controlled and professionally administered? Most importantly, if we insisted as a society that what is required for people who suffer from this condition is an environment of support, tolerance and understanding.”