Reframing the Conversation about Substance Addiction
There is a common myth in our culture about the nature of addiction, one that permeates our thinking in subtle yet subversive ways. It’s the idea that addiction is a moral failing or some kind of self-inflicted punishment on the part of the addict. From anti-drug campaigns in our schools to the cold us-vs-them mentality of the “War on Drugs,” there is an unfortunate undercurrent of blaming and shaming in regards to the condition of addiction and those that suffer from it.
This line of thinking often fails to consider addiction as a disease requiring medical attention and community support and this slanted viewpoint can cause more harm than good.
Some of the biggest offenders are those in charge of the message. The news media and the police and politicians who report on the drug busts and overdoses often shape the conversation about substance abuse, focusing our attention on the delinquent nature of drug use or the deplorable black market that surrounds its consumption. In an effort to steer impressionable young minds away from the substances altogether, public schools often wage a campaign of demonizing and alienating those who participate in substance abuse.
This hard line approach to the issues of illegal drugs is an understandable reaction by those in positions of authority, charged with regulating substance consumption and educating the public.
However, there is more to the story. As any of us who have weathered addiction with loved ones understand, the condition requires more than just a stern scolding. It requires love and compassion and process of healing and recovery.
In order for us to spread a more complete and compassionate awareness of addiction in our communities, it’s important that we frame the discussion in a context of treatment for the disease. Avoid speaking with scorn or disdain for the victims of addiction as though their will is too weak or character suspect. Instead, help friends and relatives to find the same sympathy and understanding one might have for those struggling with recovery from a terminal illness.
Respect and compassion go a long way and can often make the difference between a recovering addict’s success or relapse.