Most people, especially those who have never personally suffered or known someone who has suffered from addiction, have a painted picture in their head of what an addict looks like. Even though we statistically know that there is a massive percentage of Americans who are part of the opioid epidemic (hence the word- epidemic), we still stereotype addicts as being “less than”, causing personal and public shame.
The issue with Addiction and negative stigma is twofold: the first reason being it’s just plain and simply false. The second reason being, the negative presumptions and stereotypes have the potential to keep a lot of people from seeking help out of fear they will be judged or written off by their social communities.
As addiction becomes more widely advertised in the media, with celebrities and important personalities opening up (not always by choice) about their struggles with addiction, the general population is starting to see that addiction is living within some of their favorite idols and role models.
Hollywood and the Media Making Things Worse?
Chevy Chase is quite possibly one of the most beloved comedians across America. His face and jokes are a staple in American households, his lines often referenced, and his presence always a delight. When you’re laughing at National Lampoon’s Vacation or throwing it back to the classic Funny Farm, are you admiring the work of an addict? No! You’re not thinking about anything except how much you enjoy him and his work. He doesn’t fit any of the preconceived notions of what an addict “should” be. He’s loved, admired, and looked up too. Except he is an addict, and in 2016- he had a major relapse.
When the media caught wind of this, instead of covering the story with the true intensity it deserved, they tried to mask it as Chase simply needing a “tune up” or “a little time to pull himself together”. If this were somebody America didn’t look up too, the relapse would be described much differently. Take Charlie Sheen for example, who America apparently loves to hate. After one of his relapses, one article came out titled, “Charlie Sheen Relapse; Hookers, Hooch, Crack Cocaine Alleged”. The Media tries to manipulate addiction scenarios to match the stigma we’ve created. If its someone we admire, it’s a little “slip up”, if its someone we look down on, it’s a shameful return to drugs and a lesson never learned.
The worst part is that Charlie Sheen was open and honest about his addiction and desire to get help, and instead of looking up to him for that- a negative perception was created around his battle with substance abuse. So what does that teach the rest of the population? To seek help if you’re struggling? No- this falsely teaches the general population that addiction is something to be ashamed of, and if you are associated with it, you will be hated.
For whatever reason, America idolizes hollywood and our social expectations and norms are created there. We look up to famous people, try to copy celebrities, and create our societal norms out of hollywood trends. It goes far beyond social expectations, too. We derive many of our political and moral beliefs from celebrities too. Hollywood is the new Christianity. Where we used to have God to follow, now we have the Kardashians.
Addiction is an Illness, Not a Choice
Addiction is not a choice, scientists and researchers have gathered enough data to prove that the wiring of our brains determines our likelihood of addiction. Some of us literally aren’t able to “just say no”, because our subconscious minds tell us that physically need the drug in order to survive.
For generations, the combination of stereotype, shame, and stigma have created a fear around seeking help for addiction. Stigma literally prevents people from getting the help they need, because they think they will be classified as one of the “villains” addiction is associated with. This leaves drug and alcohol addiction underdiagnosed, undertreated, and underfunded. Addiction is misunderstood by so many people, and put in the wrong category by most.Its a chronic illness, a battle every single day for those struggling with it. Think of the sympathy you have for those with chronic pain, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and heart disease. Addiction is no different- it’s a condition we are born with, and many unlucky individuals are exposed to it.
The worst part is, addiction is literally our nation’s biggest health crisis. It kills so many people every single day, but it’s labeled a “choice”. There are over 25 million Americans who suffer from substance abuse, and we need to remove the stigma to be able to give it the attention it deserves. Beyond that, it’s going to take the public and the media’s efforts to make it happen.
Chevy Chase Highlights the Stigma
Chevy Chase came forth to the public and admitted his addiction and battle with alcohol, but maybe not the full extent. He checked himself into rehab and said he wanted to be the best version of himself he could be, but said that he was “low-level when it came to drug abuse” and simply “needed a tune up”.
What if he was honest and just said he was struggling and needed help? Would we hate him? No, we would admire him for his courage to be honest. He might have even inspired others to come forth with no shame in what they were going through.
That’s not what happened, though.So why is there a need to mask the situation? Why does the media have to play it off like its no big deal? Of course it’s a big deal, it’s a matter of life and death. Now there’s no telling if Chase himself wanted to downplay the relapse, or if his PR team advised him to do so, but either way- this is a perfect example of hollywood setting poor examples for the rest of the world. If the people we look up too are ashamed of their addiction, should we be, too? This is the mindset hollywood is creating.
The Bottom Line:
Addiction is addiction. When a person’s brain reacts in an addictive way to a substance, it should be understood that this is a condition, a disease, and not a choice. It doesn’t matter what the drug is or how long someone has been using, it’s all under the same disease.
Stigma surrounding addiction isn’t anything new, but the rate of addiction is so much higher now, that its effects are something that can no longer be ignored. It’s so heavily rooted in our society, people are dying because they are too ashamed to get help.
Somewhere, somehow, Hollywood became our bible. Maybe it wasn’t intentional, but it’s become the duty of Hollywood to set the right precedents to the general public. They need to have the public’s best interest at heart if they are going to continue to be the leading face of our society. Drug addiction needs to be publicized in an honest light, and with the message that it’s important to be honest about your illness and seek help. Addiction isn’t a choice, but living is. Addiction needs to be represented for what it is so we can kill the stigma, and save lives.