Misconceptions about addiction are so pervasive it’s no wonder that those struggling with addiction — and their families — suffer in silence, solitude, and shame.
Even though our society encourages substance abuse at every turn, when someone becomes an addict (often beginning in the teen years), society quickly treats him or her as a vile human being.
In general, people seem to use the term ‘addict’ for anyone who uses drugs, so they make a moral judgment. They don’t seem to understand there is a difference between drug abuse and addiction — that addiction is the place where dalliance ends and disease begins. People seem to view the addict as someone who behaves in a horrible way by choice and therefore is a bad person not an ill person. As a child – a child – substance abuse was a choice Joey made. But, why he started and why he can’t stop are two different things. Addiction snuck up on my son – picked him out of the substance-abusing crowd – and choked him. Substance abuse is a choice. Addiction is a disease.
Also, addiction is often viewed as a parental failing. People don’t seem to understand that I did not cause my son to become an addict. (As a parent, I do not possess that power.) They don’t seem to understand that addiction happens because a renegade sip or snort or sniff crosses an invisible line between want and need. True, I am an imperfect mom. Imperfect parenting, however, does not cause children to become addicts. (If that were so, every child would grow up to be one.) As a parent I made a lot of mistakes, but causing my son to be an addict is not one of them.
There is a widely held belief that only ‘bad’ people become addicts. The truth is that addiction can happen to anyone who takes the first sip or puff or snort or pill prescribed for pain. Even though my son has done some bad things while being an addict, my son is not a bad person. Addiction has nothing whatsoever to do with whether a person is (or was) nice.
Because addiction is so misunderstood, it is viewed as dirty laundry not to be aired. But I believe the truths about addiction need to be brought out into the open. (It is, after all, in dark corners that bad things grow most freely.) We need to think about, talk about, addiction as a disease, not a disgrace.
Sandy is the author of The Joey Song: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction.