While our nation is a melting pot of so many demographics, and we pride ourselves in that, we still tend to stereotype socially. Things become embedded in our psyche, that are not factual, and we formulate our opinions. This isn’t just based on race, religion, social class, age, and sexuality, it has segwayed into health epidemics like AIDS in the eighties and nineties; now addiction.
Addiction, is one of the most stereotyped diseases in present time. It is an epidemic, but still, many feel they are immune, because only a certain type of people ARE addicts, many also do not feel it is a disease, but a choice.
I too, had an image in my mind, of what addiction was until I got the urge, to get out in my community, to visit our rehab facilities, to meet those going through recovery. My feelings, and opinions, were shattered, by the truth, coming directly from those going through recovery.
I must say, I was surprised at how opened minded, these women were to share their stories with me, while so many of us, are closed minded towards them. In that meeting, I heard things, I have never been exposed to in my life. There were women, who were abused as children, and who had parents that were addicts. There were prostitutes, who had no choice, as they were abandoned by their families as teens, and in a drug environment. Ladies, who were popular in high school, growing up wealthy, but turned to using recreational drugs, and graduated into harder substances. Mothers, who had surgeries, didn’t know they were pregnant, and continued to take pain killers, shared their stories. Foster children, now adults, going from home to home, not feeling love, and later they turn to addiction. The list goes on and on, but each person was very different. While some, started using as a choice, it wasn’t a choice where they ended up, it was a result of the disease.
So what makes addiction a disease? Addiction, is actually a measurable change in the brain that can be physically observed. The body becomes dependent on the drug in use; it is not so simple to just stop “cold turkey,” as it can be like, cutting off your oxygen supply, and very painful. Society has not accepted this as a whole, because the disease is preventable, should one never partake of a substance. However, there are people who are more susceptible to becoming an addict, or having addictive behavior, than others. Addiction, isn’t just drug related. A person, can be an addict in many aspects. It can happen to absolutely anyone.
Why is it important to break the stereotype? Because of stereotypes, many do not know the actual signs of addiction, to catch them early, or to prevent it from happening. We get the idea of what an addict looks like, from watching television, movies, and looking at mugshots of someone at rock bottom. We think, maybe they are skinny, have been shooting up, so should have bruises, missing teeth from meth, etc. but that is not always the case. We are dealing with advanced, prescription drugs, that may not show a change on the exterior. I know, because as a trained NICU Cuddler, I can’t look at a baby’s face, and tell they are born dependent (Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome) however, I can tell from their behavior and side effects. Knowledge is key!
The best source of education, is learning directly from those affected; they are the experts. Paying close attention, can save a life. While I am helping the babies through the “Born to Kuddle,” mission, I have to help the mothers, because it starts with them. The drugs are out there, they are not going away. Many need pain killers to survive, many need mental health medicine to function, but we have to learn the proper use, and watch for signs. It has already gotten out of control, because we want to say, “it isn’t me, so it isn’t my problem.” In an essence, it is you, and it is all of our problem, because it has become normal for so many newborns to already have drugs in their systems. They are our future, and proof, that addiction does not discriminate. I have held babies from many demographics, but not what many of us think as a norm, on average.
Step outside of your comfort zone. Find a group, you feel biased to, or don’t understand, maybe even feel dislike towards. Ask yourself deeply, why you feel this way? If you had a bad experience with someone in this group, that is one person. I don’t care if it was a far fetch 5-10, it doesn’t represent that group as a whole, period. Make a new friend, get to know them, be open minded, and learn from them. It lessens hate, it reveals facts, it improves you, because the veil is lifted! While addiction is not necessarily a choice, generalizations and stereotyping is, because we can’t blame ignorance, when the sources (humankind and relationships) are readily available for free! If you met the beautiful woman below, would you think she was an addict? She is six years clean, and was four years clean in her after photo. You can never judge a book by it’s cover, this also applies to every human being.