It’s still a problem: drug users are heavily stigmatized, and that stigma carries over into self-stigma – an appropriated feeling that, because everyone else sees you in a bad light, you too begin to see yourself in it.
But stigma is a construct, and reality isn’t determined solely by public opinion. Your life is not forfeit due to drug use, and the state of your mind is very much salvageable in nearly all cases of addiction. In other words: being addicted to drugs neither makes you a bad person, nor does it make you a failure.
A cursory Google search will give you dozens of results detailing the success stories of countless athletes, actors, entrepreneurs, and doctors who prevailed and forged ahead through blazing careers despite their history with serious drug abuse and long-term recovery. Drug use doesn’t expel you from the chance to lead a great life, and for many people, the recovery process can act as the perfect catalyst for real personal growth.
Addiction is a Disease, Not a Choice
The argument has been made over and over again that addiction is not a disease, but the consensus remains the same: repetitive drug use affects the brain and changes the way it reacts to other neurotransmitters and signals. This causes changes in behavior and thinking, some of which are virtually irreversible, as well as chronic in nature.
But that doesn’t mean addiction is hardwired into any of us as a certainty, nor does it mean that anyone is exempt from ever becoming an addict. Look at it this way – we all possess a baseline risk of becoming addicted, and that risk is modified by various risk factors and protective factors, that increase or decrease our chances. A healthy lifestyle, a happy home, and feelings of contentment all massively reduce the risk of developing an addiction. Meanwhile, factors that increase stress and anxiety also increase the risk of developing an addiction. These include threats to financial stability, poverty, deteriorating health, tragic loss, mental illness, and chronic pain.
The deciding factor in each case, however, is the drug itself. Protective factors and external risk factors often determine how likely it is for a person to try a drug. It’s often our internal factors – matters of neurobiology, informed partially by genetics and partially by a person’s mental and emotional state – that determine whether experimentation at a party turns into a more frequent habit, before eventually spiraling out of control.
Once a person reaches the point of physical dependence, addiction becomes something that is largely out of their control. Some people speak about simply quitting their drug use one day and being fine. Others speak about ‘maturing’ out of drug use – about how they had a party phase in their 20s, before hitting their 30s and 40s, and simply running out of time to use drugs.
But these aren’t stories about addiction. They’re stories about drug use. Some drug users use their habit as a way to cope with a breakup or with some form of pain (describing an emotional dependence), but that doesn’t mean they have a physical dependence on the drug. A physical dependence isn’t broken by ‘maturing out’ of it but requires proper attention.
All this is to say that when you’re struggling with drug use, and you can’t stop, you are by no means a failure. It just means you need help.
Addiction Can Be Treated
Among the first steps to treating an addiction is realizing that the fear, guilt, and stigma that come with being an addict are all emotions that addiction feeds on. Addicts often don’t know what it’s like to cope with pain without drug use and turn to drugs as the easiest and most efficient way to deal with all negativity, further fueling it instead.
By pursuing strict sobriety and separating yourself from the temptations of using again through a rehab facility, inpatient program, or sober living home, you go through a process of allowing your brain and body to heal, recovering from the changes introduced by physical dependence. Through rehab, you can go through the withdrawal period under medical supervision and overcome the growing list of challenges and responsibilities that await you in sobriety alongside the help and guidance of addiction specialists and therapists.
The recovery process is more than just a return to the status quo. There is no cure for addiction, which means that the only way to really overcome it is to convince yourself that living sober is better than anything a drug can offer, after giving your mind enough time to remember what it’s like to lead a normal life without heavy drug use. Through this process, you won’t only rediscover yourself, but you’ll have the opportunity to grow in ways you might never have imagined.
Life Is Better When Sober
It’s only through sobriety that you avoid the painful hangovers, the constant mood shifts, the infrequent-but-terrifying blackouts, and the growing list of costs associated with your drug use, from the drugs themselves to the hospital fees they eventually spawn. Drug use, despite the high, brings nothing but pain into a person’s life. And while it’s tempting to write it off as a self-destructive habit, one person’s addiction directly affects at least half a dozen other people in many detrimental ways.
On the other side of the coin, living sober changes life for the better. You get to live in the moment. You’re in a healthier mind and body. The constant drug use, malnourishment, and bad sleeping habits are gone, and with them the hygiene issues, skin conditions, weight loss/gain and sickness that often accompany heavy addiction. Through sobriety, you get to have fulfilling relationships again, you get to work a job you don’t have to worry about losing every week, and you can manage your stress in healthy ways that don’t require you to withdraw from reality and start worrying about new consequences.
No one ever genuinely argued that addiction doesn’t start with a choice. But no one should argue that a person’s life is forfeit for a few innocent self-destructive mistakes. There is no moral lesson behind addiction – it’s a disease that targets everyone, regardless of their moral compass, and runs rampant through their lives. But it can be overcome, most of its damage can be reversed, and most people who make it through the recovery process come out the other end being stronger, wiser, more mature, and more capable of standing up to the many challenges life still has in store for them. Your drug use never made you a failure – and recovery gives you the opportunity to take your unfortunate past and turn it into a story of living a better life despite overwhelming odds.