Certain people are very easy to judge. Bad reputations remain unchallenged. Opinion becomes truth.
It’s easy to judge a drug addict, for example. We’ve all heard and perhaps repeated common beliefs about such people: they’re weak, selfish, self-destructive, they’ll do anything for a hit, they don’t care about the people who love them.
I disagree with all of these descriptions, mostly because they’re far too simplistic. In my short life, I’ve known many people who’ve abused substances and I’ve listened to their stories. What I’ve learned is that nothing is ever simple as a list of adjectives.
And I’ve always ended up wondering why. (As a writer, I’m programmed to do this. I can’t help it) Why does a person become addicted to drugs? What were the choices and circumstances that led down that path? What personal struggles contributed? Was it some inherent quality or something that happened to them?
It takes a little effort to try to understand another person. All you have to do is look inside yourself, to some point of similarity. Because it’s there.
Have you ever wanted to forget a difficult memory? Wished your mind would stop chattering? Felt you couldn’t overcome something because it was too hard? Hated yourself with every fiber of your being?
If you can answer those questions honestly, that’s a start.
A Life Without Love
The compulsion to use drugs was explained to me once like this: “no one cares about me, so I’ll do what I want. If I had a woman, or a kid, that would be different. But I don’t.”
Beneath that statement is a very sad truth–a lack of self-worth.
All of us look outward for reassurance, for confirmation that we are valuable as human beings. We instinctively expect certain people to shower us with love–our parents, siblings, extended family.
But if, rather than reassurance, those people instead berate and abuse us, we are left believing to our very core that we are worthless.
Very few people are strong enough to look inward and believe that they’re good enough, with no outward confirmation. If the outside world says we’re ugly or stupid, etc, we believe that rather than love ourselves.
Return to that quote again: “If I had a woman, or a kid, that would be different. But I don’t.” Most people live for others, not themselves. While we may act selfishly and do things for ourselves on occasion, our true motivation is the happiness of the people we love.
Imagine you already believe yourself to be worthless, because that’s what the world has told you. Imagine also that you are alone, with no one care for. It’s just you, hating yourself, with no motivation to be better.
If drugs erased these feelings and replaced them with a euphoria you can’t experience otherwise, do you think you could resist them?
Leaving Your Problems Behind
This one is pretty obvious: people use drugs to run away from their problems. The fellow reporter I worked with at a newspaper years ago drank himself into oblivion to forget about the day his daughter was run over by a snow plow.
Drug addicts are weak, right? The rest of us deal with our problems, you may say. But do you, really? Think about it. Avoidance takes many forms.
We all escape. To clear our minds of the day’s stresses, we play video games, watch TV, read a book. Go for a run, hike, go “out” with friends to dance or drink.
Healthy escapes, yes, but this is the point if similarity.
Do you avoid confrontation by refusing to have an opinion in an argument? Or do you use passive aggressive tactics to get your way? Are you well aware that your cholesterol is too high, yet you put off changing your diet because it’s too hard? Or maybe you know your spouse is cheating on you, but bury yourself in distraction–work, hobbies, you name it–so you don’t have to think about it.
We all close our awareness to problems we can plainly see, stupidly hoping the problem will go away. It doesn’t. It never does–not until you deal with it. But dealing with it is too hard. As you read this, you’re probably thinking of that thing in your life you want to avoid.
Now imagine that thing is bigger. The death of a child. A rape. A failed marriage. Being in a car accident. A combat tour overseas. You already avoid the small problems, the things you probably could deal with if you tried. Do you really think you could handle something worse without turning to an unhealthy escape?
I doubt I could.
The Power of Chemicals
Think about the people in your life. I bet, like me, a handful of them are addicted to pain killers.
I know three people who are. The opioid crisis in my county is so bad that the foster care system can’t handle all the children taken away from addicted parents.
Anyone could end up in this place. You. Me. Your brother. Your grandmother. The path is easy, because it often begins with a doctor.
You get hurt, you have a condition, and you need pain relief. The doctor gives you a pill. And you think–“it came from the doctor, it must be okay!” Before you even know what’s happening, your body can’t live without that little pill.
I’m not saying anything ground-breaking here. The point I’m trying to get across is that the path to drug addiction can start innocently, the point of entry guarded by someone in a position of trust. It doesn’t have to be illicit, the drugs purchased in secret and illegally, injected with dirty needles. The drugs can be in a prescription bottle you pick up at Walgreens.
In my experience people underestimate the overpowering and insidious effect of chemicals on the human body and mind. I did.
My own point of similarity is birth control. It was prescribed to me at sixteen, by a doctor who listened to my problems for five minutes and took the easiest route to fix them. For eighteen years, my body grew accustomed to that chemical support and didn’t know how to function without it. Over the years, the pill gave me numerous health problems, among them irritable bowel syndrome and chronic anxiety.
My point is that we are not our true selves on chemicals. Our bodies and minds aren’t functioning naturally while under their influence. And that’s the point, isn’t it?
Some of these influences are necessary to improve our health, of course. But others can have drastic consequences. And though it may be a far cry from more illicit drugs, the use of legal ones proves at least one point: that we are at their whim.
Has drug addiction effected your life? What do you do to escape?