We’ve all seen it. A celebrity falls victim to the effects of addiction and gets trashed in the press. Is there any empathy? Noooo… Are there any attempts to use this as an introduction into the dangers of alcohol and drugs? Noooo… Because such things don’t sell, and they don’t get clicks — and clicks, as we all know, are money in the bank.
Another thing that bothers me when people start trashing celebrity alcoholics and addicts is that it indicates, half a century after alcoholism and addiction were recognized officially as diseases, that as a society we still view them as an issue of morals. And it seems that most of us enjoy seeing icons brought down, speaking more to our character than that of the icons.
In my opinion, this is because nearly all of us have had our lives touched by addiction, and have experienced the chaos that addicts carry and leave behind them the way a tornado carries dust and debris. Alcoholics and other addicts do things that those folks can’t imagine they would ever do. We lie — to ourselves, our families, and the world. We steal — time, affection, money, jewelry, attention, and sometimes lives. We cheat others of the things that we like to believe that we are all entitled to: peace of mind, security, sometimes even shelter and food. We not only do these things, we do them in ways that confound those around us. “He wasn’t raised like that!” “Look what she did to her poor parents!” What could such a person be, but evil? What could they possibly deserve beyond contempt?
I know those questions, because I asked them of myself in my active addiction and for some years afterward. It wasn’t until I began to relate my behavior during my addiction to that of addicts that I was working with in my recovery that I really “got” it.
Addiction is chemically induced insanity. We use drugs to change our reality. They alter our brain chemistry in ways that make us feel better about our lives and ourselves. We like that. We may feel less shy, less “uptight,” less dumb, more romantic, more desirable. The list of things that alcohol and other drugs do for us in the beginning is limited only by the things that we might want to change. However, they change the way we feel, they don’t change who and what we are. When the good feelings wear off we’re “still the same old girl we used to be” as the song goes, and we want even more to experience that change again — to be that other person. So we have some more drugs or booze, because the very first thing that they take away from us is the ability to make good decisions. In the case of alcohol, only two drinks affects our critical thinking, and our critical thinking is what keeps us out of trouble.
Over time, the more or less continuous presence of drugs in our brains causes physical changes that makes us need the drug to feel normal. Because our critical thinking is affected, using again looks like a reasonable solution. We tell ourselves that we’re OK. We lie about our use to others and to ourselves. We do what we need to do to protect the drugs that take us in the direction we believe we need to go. Eventually, we really do need them to function. We are well and truly hooked, even though we had no intention of getting that way. The drugs have become the center of our universe, and we are compelled to do whatever it takes to get them.
We don’t plan to hurt others in the process, but it’s inevitable. It’s also unsurprising that very few of them are sympathetic. To them, our behavior is a complete puzzle, the obvious solution to which is that we are terrible people. They think “Just Say No” is reality, instead of a cruel joke.
If we put the time, effort and money into drug research and rehab that we put into prisons for incarcerating addicts, we could make a really big dent in addiction. That would be a good thing, because addiction — including alcoholism — costs us hundreds of billions of dollars a year in health care, lost wages, bankruptcies, disrupted families, and the myriad other kinds of fallout from lives run amok.
But first, people have to understand that insanity — whatever the cause — is not evil. In the case of addiction, it is a disease that can be arrested once we get clean and begin to understand what’s needed to remain that way. That’s where detox and treatment come in. It doesn’t often work the first time, and for some it doesn’t work at all, but it’s the best we’ve got until our national will and attitudes change.