We’re all one event away from being down the road to a serious addiction. And in reality, we are all addicts, it’s just some use socially acceptable methods, whilst others find peace through frowned upon means. Most of us have some vice we are drawn to in moments of tension or stress. For some, it’ll be chocolate, whilst for another, it will be exercise, and still, for someone else, their soother of choice will be heroin. But here’s the thing, most of us would turn a blind eye toward the first two, but quickly shake our head at the heroin user.
It’s time we look at this differently.
Sure, being addicted to illegal substances has its problems, but how costly is the health crisis around those who indulge in doughnuts, or hot chips or maybe even gaming? The reality is, for those addicted to alcohol or other drugs, most have experienced tremendous amounts of pain, shame, guilt, trauma and setbacks. Furthermore, it was likely there drug use kept them alive in the first instance, it’s just that over time, their coping mechanism has become extremely unhelpful.
When you have a persistent sense of heartbreak and gutwrench, the physical sensations become intolerable and we will do anything to make those feelings disappear. And that is really the origin of what happens in human pathology. People take drugs to make it disappear, and they cut themselves to make it disappear, and they starve themselves to make it disappear, and they have sex with anyone who comes along to make it disappear and once you have these horrible sensations in your body, you’ll do anything to make it go away.― Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score.
If we would treat people who are addicted to substances the same way we do someone who has received a cancer diagnosis, we may begin to relate differently to the problems we see around us. And instead of launching a ‘war on drugs‘ we created spaces for people struggling with pain and trauma to share, belong and be heard, the faster we may see some lives changed.
But I fear, that as a community we’re glad that the addiction problem is ‘over there‘, and that ‘the government‘ is doing something about it. The government rarely fixes any societal problems, and until we begin to understand as a community that the people around us who have addictive behaviours are using those substances to cover over a deeper need, we won’t make any progress. Let’s change our language and see how that shifts our perspective.
They are not simply addicts, they are people in pain, and the least we can do is begin to understand the roots of addiction and how our own addictive patterns can draw parallels with those who make their way into an AA meeting. Pain, trauma and life setbacks change us. And sadly, this means people will find their way to drugs and alcohol. The solutions aren’t simple but start by being more open, empathic and understanding.
I’m learning more about addiction every day and I find it a fascinating topic. If you want to learn more, then this clip of Russell Brand speaking with Gabor Mate is an absolutely great place to start.