There’s nothing like a juicy debate of weighty opinions to spice things up in the blogosphere. There’s no doubt, when anonymity and personal experience get thrown in the mix, sparks ignite faster than you can say “What a load of crap!”

That’s exactly what happened after I recently posted Thanks Andrew, a personal homage to [HPA Creator/Cofounder/Executive Director] Andrew Slack’s article about his feelings of GLEE actor Cory Monteith’s recent overdose.

Thanks to one commenter, the embers of attitude quickly flew.

The world is no stranger to sparks. Some of us even thrive on it. As if somehow the voracity of our thirst for drama is equated to the very reason we’ve created it. Ever seen a drag queen go all Diva on someone’s ass, only to bitch about why the whole thing is going down in the first place? It’s hard to walk away. And at the end of the day, from clear heels to Air Jordons, what we really want is just to be heard.

Which brings me to this follow-up post.

As much as I disagree with some comments in Thanks Andrew, I gotta say, I’m grateful. There are so many vacant seats to the addiction education show, that any amount of light shed on the marquee is a welcomed step inside this heart-wrenching real-time documentary that’s taking a staggering amount of lives (even outnumbering US automobile deaths, claiming a life every 14 minutes).

You see, I’m an addict. I’m not proud. I’m not ashamed. I just am.

And as I explain in a post I wrote after climbing my way back from one of many re-lapses in Addiction: simple and complicated, I wish life were logical and I could explain it in a way so many people don’t seem to get. And who could blame them, if they believe like one commenter thinks (and says):

“Just don’t do it. If you’re that fucking dumb…”

This person went on to insult and barrage (by way of name-calling and throwing words back in another commenter’s face) readers with such ugly intent, it’d cause the even the biggest drama queens to gasp.

But I respect their opinion. I welcome it. No paradigm shift was ever made with voices of reason. There’s always a street-fight.

But there’s a way to come to blows without swinging insults and catching your knuckles under the belt. There doesn’t need to be bloodshed for minds to open and opinions to shift. Experience will sometimes do the trick – which is tragic, when speaking of addiction (who wants to learn about about a disease as the result of a loved one’s overdose?).

There’s also education.

Not buying it from some 80s coke whore ex-stripper chick (sorry mom, I’ll stop calling myself that now)? Trust me, I get it – so I gathered these explanations from peeps far better equipped to speak on why such comments as “Just don’t do drugs – Stupid!” illustrates the vast ignorance and hubris of so many, where addiction is concerned.

From David Sheff (not a doctor, an addict or an academic expert, but a father of an addict and author of Beautiful Boy and most recently Clean):

“I guess it’s [the biggest misconception of addiction] this very deeply ingrained idea that addicts are choosing to get high and so they are reprehensible and they’re weak. But what we know now is that addicts aren’t immoral, they aren’t weak; they’re ill. They have a disease.”

From Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Nora Volkow:

“Addiction is all about the dopamine. The pleasure, pain and devilish problem of control are simply the detritus left by waves of this little molecule surging and retreating deep in the brain.”

“All addictive substances send dopamine levels surging in the small central zone of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, which is thought to be the main reward center [located in the Limbic System]. Amphetamines induce cells to release it directly; cocaine blocks its reuptake; alcohol and narcotics like morphine, heroin and many prescription pain relievers suppress nerve cells that inhibit its release.”

“Researchers now postulate that addiction requires two things. First is a genetic vulnerability, whose variables may include the quantity of dopamine receptors in the brain: Too few receptors and taking the drug is not particularly memorable, too many and it is actually unpleasant. Second, repeated assaults to the spectrum of circuits regulated by dopamine, involving motivation, expectation, memory and learning, among many others, appear to fundamentally alter the brain’s workings.”

Outside of experience and education, how do we address the blanketed accusations of “weak” and “stupid” when it comes to people who are addicts?

Here’s the part where you tell me your thoughts in the comment section.

I’ll start the dialogue by sharing what my friend Kristen Johnston (Emmy-winning star of TV Land’s ‘the exes’ and author of the New York Times best-selling GUTS) emailed me in response to the heated commenter:

“The bottom line is, despite what you believe, whether you believe the 40 years of scientific evidence proving addiction IS a disease, or you believe that addiction is really just about weak-willed fools who aren’t able to face life–at the end of the day….isn’t life really just about how you handle yourself?
 
If someone believes the earth is flat, that’s cool, too. But don’t you dare scream at me & speak in a derogatory manner just because I happen to believe the earth is round.”
 
Now it’s your turn. Let’s light this candle.
 
 

27 comments

  1. It’s definitely ignorance…I am a recovering alcoholic and even without drinking, I can’t help but feel the shame of the disease. Living with the stigma of addiction is almost as crippling as the actual addiction. Unfortunately, attitudes in this country are generally based on misinformation, whether we’re talking about addiction or politics. I believe that these attitudes are largely responsible for the epidemic of addiction, because people are ashamed of themselves and are convinced they’re just simply “bad”. We are deserving of treatment, not more judgement. Thanks for your post 🙂

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    1. “Living with the stigma of addiction is almost as crippling as the actual addiction” – you are not alone! That’s why I posted this.

      It’s crucial for people to know that addiction is a brain disease – and that with education, there is a realization that it’s absurd to “look down” on someone who has this. Does anyone point fingers and “look down” on people with cancer? Even if a sun-tanner was diagnosed with Melanoma, they still wouldn’t get the amount of judgment and blame the way addicts do.

      This really is an epidemic – and thanks to people like you, one person, one comment, one voice at a time – the publics’ perception will shift and more people will come out from the shroud of secrecy and shame, seek the help they need, and heal.

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  2. I’d disagree with Kristen. Believing things that are the demonstrable opposite of fact isn’t so cool.

    As far as addiction, so how do you deal with an addict who doesn’t want help/to get clean, even after acknowledging it’s an illness?

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    1. Ha EG – thanks for this. I think (and I think you know this), Kristen was simply saying that she’s not judging what anyone thinks. We are all allowed to our personal opinions. It’s cool. But what’s NOT cool is when people are treated with disrespect and cruelty because they don’t agree.

      To answer your question about how we can deal with an addict who doesn’t want to get clean – even after they acknowledge they are sick? My first thought is hire an Interventionist, but honestly, I’m not a therapist or medical expert. I would ask a therapist / doctor who specializes in addiction treatment.

      At the end of the day, the sad fact is, no matter how much we love someone who is sick – we can’t love them well. They need to want treatment (in my opinion) for them to live in recovery.

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      1. Dear El Guapo
        My point was…For 40 years, addiction has been proven to be a disease. Just as for hundreds of years, the world has been proven to be round. Yet people insist addiction isn’t a disease, just as some still believe the world is flat. To me, they are the same…scientifically proven facts that some refuse to believe are true.
        Thank you,

        Kristen Johnston

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  3. SPOT. ON.
    Dialogue, though it sometimes as ignorant, attacking & harsh, is needed. Talking about addiction & education is imperative. Kristen’s comments summed it up perfectly. Bottom line is: addiction is a DISEASE. It’s no one’s “fault”, addicts cannot simply “stop”, there is no shame in addiction, as you said- one simply IS an addict- AND a human being- one with emotions, feelings, strengths and struggles just like anyone else.
    Dialog is needed, evisceration is not.
    Great blog!!! Keep writing, sister!!!!

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  4. Excellent post Christine!! Before I comment let me first say that I am a recovered alcoholic/addict. Secondly, I have the wonderful privilege of working as an interventionist and have worked in the addiction recovery field for over 10 years. The fact that addiction is a disease can no longer be debated by intelligent people. Any argument to the contrary is nothing more that opinion and bias and cannot be refuted anyhow. What can be a touchy subject however is the public’s perception of addiction. Our society perceives addiction as a moral issue. It’s no more a moral issue than cancer, diabetes or any other chronic illness. It can happen to anyone and can manifest in any number of manners, from substances, food, sex, shopping gambling, exercise…the list is endless. While me may make decisions that have the appearance of being morally compromised, the disease itself is void of such attachments. Addiction has very little to do with whatever substances we put in our body. Those substances are actually THE SOLUTION to the underlying problem and that is, that until treated, we as addicts are fundamentally unable to regulate our emotions in a health way. There is a source of emotional pain that will not go away until we get into recovery and learn healthy, meaningful tools to treat that pain. Abstinence alone is not enough for the addict like me!

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    1. Thanks so much for this Matt. The moral issue is what many people struggle with – I agree. Your words are so valuable, and what an immense contribution your passion/profession as an interventionist provides! Much love to you.

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  5. I’m a recovering addict in long term recovery and very proud of it. Yes, I tell people I was a pill popping lush and a mother at the same time. I feel it is up to me to speak out openly if I am to expect any changes in society. I will argue the ignorant because “I” didn’t choose to suffer and suffer I did! I will educate my children and the young people at my sober house that ask for my help. The unfortunate side of the disease model, there will always be those who choose not to believe. It’s like cancer, however when we leave rehab we don’t get chemo. Keep on writing Christine you’re a spark in my life!! Much love!!

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    1. This comment just gave me chills! Do you KNOW what a gift it is to share that you were a pill-popping lush and a mother at the same time?! SO MANY people out there have walked in the same path – and are mortified by their past behaviors, and rightly so – but it doesn’t take anything away – in fact, by us sharing our stories, it actually gives so much – purpose to our pain.

      In telling my story (in the book I’m working on), I get short of breath when writing about the time I snatched a family member’s wedding ring and pawned it, the morning I drove high on GHB with my six year-old niece in the car after having been up all night, had sex with this stranger-couple just because he had blow, and on and on. Am I proud of these things? No. But do I think sharing them will help someone take an honest look at their life, and perhaps take the steps toward healing? Absofuckinglutey.

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  6. I’ve come to see that the most opinionated people who think they have the simple “cut-and-dried” answers about addiction are usually the ones who don’t understand how it really works. That lack of understanding cultivates fear. Being fearful of the unknown is part of the human experience, but sadly, fear can usually lead to denial. They work together in the sense that if you are dismissive of something and don’t really acknowledge it for what it is, it goes away.

    The good thing about these people who like to voice how pathetic we addicts are for giving into our impulses is that it does promote dialogue and gets people thinking. That’s the first step in education. Some might not be willing to understand the legitimacy of addiction as a disease, but other people who are listening will become better informed. Derogatory insults aside, this debate helps lift the veil off of our society’s dirty little secret and assists in removing the negative stigma that is often associated with addiction.

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  7. Christine, my son, at 14, shared with me what he was learning in health. The dialogue went something like this….Mom, do u know that prescription opiates are the same as heroin and r being abused more than heroin? Me…yes, insert the dude, do u know I was a pill popping lush, addicted to my prescribed opiates for years and almost four years of your life and your brothers? His response, nooooo, you had children and didn’t stop. Me, no I didn’t, I increased, that’s what is called ADDICTION, they obviously past over that part in health.

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  8. Thank you so much for this, Christine. I’m so glad you wrote this, and I encourage people to read your entire blog entry called “Thanks Andrew” and the ensuing comments–not because of the gentleman’s derogatory and medically incorrect assumptions regarding addiction, but because of the sane & beautifully patient way you dealt with him.
    Sadly, far too many people do believe that addicts are weak-willed, selfish idiots hell-bent on ruining their lives & the lives of those who love them. Addiction causes so much harm to so many people, this we can all agree with.
    Yet I believe the only way to change people’s perceptions is to address their beliefs as respectfully as we possibly can. This isn’t easy when someone is spewing rage at you.
    Because we caused so much destruction while we were using, the onus is now on those of us in recovery to do our best to help educate as many as we possibly can. We owe it to all those we hurt, including ourselves, to try to pave the road for the millions still sick & suffering, and those who love them.
    I don’t know if your wise words got through to the gentleman who called your beliefs a “load of crap,” and perhaps it doesn’t matter. Because you’ll never know who’s mind you DID, in fact change.
    And at the end of the day, my wise & lovely friend, THAT is all that really matters.

    Mad respect,

    Kristen Johnston

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    1. Full circle respect, missy. THANK YOU for this.

      “Because we caused so much destruction while we were using” – aint that the truth. Maybe the naysayers are just pissed off at all the hurt we’ve caused. If only they knew it wasn’t us, but the disease. Ok some of it was the people themselves – as you say, there are assholes in every spectrum – clean, sober, users, bible beaters…

      All I know is that thinking about the shit I did when I was using makes me throw up in my mouth a little. Mimosas for everybody!

      Thanks again for this – you are the shit.

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  9. Many people (including, I seem to recall, the dashing gent who inspired this post) have said that we want to call it a disease, so that we don’t have to take responsibility for what we did. Au contraire (which is French for “you’re a dumbass” I think)….I, for one, am not “copping out” of the harm I did, to others or myself. I own every stupid, hideous, mortifying, deadly thing I did while using. I own the hurt I caused, and the damage I did. In fact, none of us “decided” to wake up one day and start calling addiction a disease. Alcoholism has been considered a disease by SCIENTISTS for FORTY YEARS.
    I own what I did. And just as I blame no one for my disease, my recovery is no one else’s either.

    And I refuse to let anyone shove their shame & rage down my throat. In fact, one of the great joys of my life is being able to live a shameless life. And I got here on bloodied knees, believe me.

    I know so many recovering addicts who are the best people on earth–including the loud-ass broad who writes this blog. I understand people’s hurt & fury, but it’s yours, not mine.

    Could I be more Oprah?
    Thanks, Gayle.

    Kristen

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  10. From one who has not walked in those particular shoes worn by drug addicts, I appreciate the dialogue that leads me to greater understanding.
    I lived in families (yep, plural) of alcoholics. I have a family member who has recovered from drug addiction. I have another family member who maintains that neither is a disease – that it is a matter of will power (or NO willpower).
    I’ve attended meetings of Al-Anon Alateens and consumed gallons of coffee with various members. I even hung out with blatant drug addicts in dark rooms of smokey haze.
    I’ve therefore absorbed input from various angles and to some degree, have knowledge of the widespread hurt, rejection and bloodied knees.
    Open discussion seems to provide the best way to gain perspective that holds up to fact and leads the way to helping resolve the issues that so negatively impact a large number of people.
    This post realy struck a chord with me.
    Thanks!

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    1. Julie – Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment.

      “I appreciate the dialogue that leads me to greater understanding.” – This is what it’s all about.

      Thank you again. This makes me smile.

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  11. I’m a bit shocked how the first post attracted such rants and criticism. But, I guess that proves your point ! For me, if people want to have their mind opened and maybe changed, you can only really do that through dialogue, education and understanding, where you each show each other tolerance, respect and compassion. At least after that, you’ll both understand each others position, even if you don’t agree and more importantly no-one gets hurt.

    How many times after the violence of boxing match does the loser, say “yeh, I see his point of view, he was a better fighter today ?”

    Then there’s the double standard in the addiction the person who flames on a post displays when following a blog just to trash it. While denying the existence of addiction

    Just me and my thoughts, but I’ll keep following and thinking on the points your making, that are making me a better woman. After all, who wouldn’t want that for themselves and where’s the harm in that ?

    Frick.i LOVE this blog
    #girlcrush (my way of saying addict and proud)

    Like

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