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COLUMN: Those who suffer from drug addiction should not be stigmatized


The drug addiction crisis in our country will never get better if Americans continue to fall back on the old idea that drug addiction is simply a lifestyle choice and a moral deficit.

It’s time to stop thinking of people suffering from drug addiction as social pariahs and criminals, and instead we need to see them for what they are: people with an illness who need help.

At first, when you look at polls about how Americans perceive people suffering from drug addiction, it seems there is some understanding that addiction is a disease. However, they do not seem to be sympathetic at all.

According to a study done by an AP-NORC Poll, 53 percent of Americans do consider drug addiction as a disease. However, fewer than one in five Americans would want to associate in a friendship or relationship with anyone suffering from drug addiction.

This attitude towards people who are suffering from drug addiction can have drastic effects on a person's willingness to get treatment. According to data gathered from the 2005 and 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 24.1 percent of people who suffer from drug addiction chose not receive help because they feared being stigmatized by their community or creating a negative work environment.

These negative ideas about people who suffer from drug addiction most likely stem from the idea that it was their choice to spiral into drug addiction. People believe addicts should simply choose to stop using drugs. Well, it’s never that simple.

While it’s true that many addictions start with voluntary drug use, the person may become chemically addicted, meaning their brain basically becomes programed to want more. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drugs play on the “reward circuit” and dopamine output in the brain, causing repeated use despite the behavior being unhealthy. 

“Repeated drug use can lead to brain changes that challenge an addicted person’s self-control and interfere with their ability to resist intense urges to take drugs,” The National Institute on Drug Abuse said. 

At a certain point, drug use is no longer a choice. It’s a compulsion.

I know there will be people who will disagree with me and say, “Well they should have never taken drugs in the first place.” Again, that’s grossly simplifying the matter. 

It’s easy for someone to say that someone shouldn’t take drugs without understanding their life situation or circumstances that led them to drug use. Perhaps someone lost a job and made a bad choice. Perhaps they grew up in a home where drug use and addiction was prevalent and it’s simply all they know because of it.

Also, that attitude doesn’t take into account those whose addictions stem from prescription opiates like oxycontin and fentanyl. Sometimes doctors over prescribe these medications and people get addicted. In situations like those, addiction was never their choice. Period.

Despite all of what I just said, I’m not here to judge those who cast shame onto people who suffer from drug addiction. That would be hypocritical.

I myself used to have this mentality. I used to believe that anyone who used drugs was automatically a terrible human being and should be locked in prison.

Today, while I personally abstain from using any form of drugs, I have grown to learn to be far more understanding of those who struggle with addiction. If I can learn this, anyone can.