My addiction was quiet. Most of my family didn’t know, and still don’t, about my issues with drugs. Many very close friends of mine don’t know the full story. I didn’t go to treatment, and I didn’t overdose — I struggled internally. In reality, not every addict’s story is a big saga; some are short stories. With the stigma of addiction, it’s hard to come out and tell people about your struggles with substance abuse, whether they be current or in the past, no matter how big or small.
Compassion is not an easy thing to feel for a community of people so villainized. Addicts are far from innocent, but they are people experiencing something that is so life-altering that it’s skewed their priorities. Compassion doesn’t equal forgiveness. Compassion means understanding. If more people understood that compassion, not judgment, is a better response to addiction frustrations, it can help to bridge the gap between those experiencing it, and those affected by them.
Remember, You Don’t Know Their Story
I tried my first drug ever at age 12 — I was going into the seventh grade. The worst parts of my drug use were in high school and some relapses in college. I was a kid, especially when I was first exposed to this world. My relapses were a result of trauma that I didn’t know how to handle.
Was it my choice to use? Absolutely, but I was also a kid. Every person’s story is different, but the people who judge them for their use forget about all the times they’ve made a stupid mistake. Fortunately for them, that mistake didn’t lead to addiction.
Judgment is never a helpful reaction to someone’s troubles. It shows a lack of self-awareness or empathy for an experience different than your own. Some people use as a result of trauma; some people use as a response to mental health struggles; and some use because they didn’t think they’d end up as an addict. Some people were exposed when they were impressionable, and environment has a strong component in addiction as well. Some people used drugs to monitor pain, which led to addiction. No matter their story, it’s important to remember it is different than yours, so you’ll never fully understand it.
Dehumanizing Addiction Is Dangerous
There’s no denying the plague of addiction happening all over the world. I have no doubt that the people judging addicts aren’t untouched by it. Maybe it’s their family member or friend who is using. Maybe their frustration with that person lead to their judgement and lack of compassion about the entire subject of addiction.
However, blanket judgements don’t lead to treatment or less people using. In reality, they are dealing with an addiction that is killing more people each year. By judging those people, you’re dehumanizing them. If addicts aren’t people, then why should we care about so many drug deaths? This is why dehumanizing addiction is dangerous.
Compassion leads to action. If we want less addicts in the world, we need to find solutions that work to help them. @Chelsy5 (Click to Tweet!)
Balancing Accountability And Compassion
Drug addiction leads to risky behavior that can be toxic to those around them. This is the source of a lot of judgment and callousness towards those dealing with addiction. When an addict puts others in danger, they commit a crime, or when they prioritize their addiction over their family, it can be hard to have any sympathy for them.
However, there’s a difference between holding an addict accountable for their actions and dismissing their humanity. Someone that commits a crime should legally pay for that crime. People are allowed to be angry with someone for hurting others, but that doesn’t mean dismissing them as people.
Nurses are taught to be mindful of the growing substance abuse problem in order to prevent patients manipulating healthcare providers for drugs, but they are also taught about the importance in treatment and recovery. This is a good example of holding an addict accountable while still acknowledging their humanity and having compassion for every person seeking medical treatment regardless of their addiction.
There are a lot of grey lines involved with holding an addict accountable while withholding judgment. That line is hard to find sometimes. Drugs have a way of bringing out the worst in people, and those actions shouldn’t be tolerated. It’s important to note that not all addicts are bad people, and not all sober people are good people. In offering compassion for the community of people experiencing addiction, you’ll better understand the intricacies of substance abuse.
Not All Diseases Are Created Equal
Here’s the trouble people have with classifying addiction as a disease: You can’t get this disease unless you do the drugs. Here’s where choice comes in and why so many people have a problem with addiction being classified as a disease. People are worried that addicts will use this as a crutch or an excuse to keep using. However, the attributes of addiction that coincide with a disease include having a strong genetic component and an alteration of the brain’s biology once someone has used.
No, addiction isn’t a disease like diabetes. However, type 2 diabetes has a strong lifestyle component as well, including diet and exercise. There is an element of choice involved with type 2 diabetes, but no one is arguing that diabetes isn’t a disease. Not all diseases are created equal, but that doesn’t change the fact that they each require intervention and treatment. Because of the selfish behavior addiction can cause, it can be hard to see past the frustrations in order to feel compassion. However, the truth is that addiction is considered a disease due to its biological components. It’s not a disease like any other, but it’s one that is affecting millions.
Be a Part of the Solution
Instead of taking part in a culture that demonizes addiction and those struggling with it, work to be a part of the solution. This doesn’t mean putting yourself in a toxic situation with those in your life who may be using, but it can mean being more understanding. Stop judgmental thoughts and understand that in another life, that could have been you. This is where compassion stems, with the realization that one situation may have more heartbreak to it than you can comprehend.
Treatment and recovery are very possible for even the most helpless seeming addiction cases. Treating opioid addiction can be extremely difficult given the connection with pain management, excruciating withdrawal, and the dangerous nature of abuse. Opioid treatment programs with inpatient rehab facilities, medication to help withdrawal, and a focus on treating the whole person and not just their addiction are some treatment options that can help.
Reverse the stigma of addiction by encouraging a discussion on the topic and working to understand how someone’s environment and biology may be a reason for their drug use. The more people who come forward to take action against addiction, the more lives that can be saved.
No one wants to be judged for the worst mistakes they’ve ever made, and addicts feel no different. The trouble with judging addiction is that with addiction comes a story you’ll never understand. Dehumanizing addiction is causing a deadly issue to get overlooked again and again. Instead, learn how to separate judgment from accountability in your mind. Understand that not all diseases are created equal and that addiction needs more people to be a part of the solution — not more people brushing away the problem.
I still don’t feel comfortable being honest about my substance abuse problems. I’m always aware of the judgement that can come with sharing this information about my past, but I hope that doing so will incite more compassion for a community I was once a part of. I hope that my story will encourage those struggling with substance abuse to feel safe enough to seek help without fearing judgment. Compassion takes work, but I’ll never forget those who found it in their hearts to feel it for me in my worst years. That’s how I know that compassion is a better response to the subject of addiction than judgement will ever be.
Chelsy Ranard is a writer/blogger who graduated with her journalism degree from the University of Montana in 2012. She is passionate about addiction recovery advocacy, loves to write about self-care, and works to help others through her writing. Read more of her writing on Twitter.
Image courtesy of sergio souza.