Name: Rachel D...
From: Manhattan, KS
School: Kansas State University
Vulnerability to and Protection Against Addiction: The Social Factor
Addiction is a disease that permeates all races, social classes, and genders.
Breaking out of addiction can be extremely difficult, and relapse is
common. Besides being highly prolific, addiction is a greatly
misunderstood mental disorder. Manly people believe that those living
with addiction have brought it on themselves and can stop at any
time. This is not true. In fact, certain genetic factors make people
more vulnerable to addiction. Further, family, financial, and other
life stressors contribute to its development. While these risk
factors are commonly studied by those wishing to develop better
safeguards against addictions, the social factor is often overlooked.
American society is so hyper-individualistic that coping skills are
ignored and asking for help is silently discouraged; this leaves
individuals vulnerable to addiction and at risk for delayed recovery.
Individualism is at the hear of American culture, leaving individuals to deal with
problems on their own. Americans are expected to care for themselves
first and solve their own problems, whether social, emotional, or
financial. Compounding this issue is the fact that such an
individualistic society, the teaching of self-care and coping skills
is neglected. The practice of healthy coping is the biggest
protective factor against addiction, yet American society is not
interested in educating individuals about this critical skill. While
some people are lucky enough to be in a situation where they are
surrounded by supportive loved ones, others are not as fortunate as
to be given such a natural support system. Without the knowledge of
how to positively handle life stressors, many people turn to
maladaptive behaviors such as drinking and drug use. Further, in a
culture where fixing one’s own problems is expected, those who fall
into addiction believe the negative stigma that it is their fault and
they should face their addiction on their own. This burdens the
individual with further emotional and psychological stresses,
accentuating the issues that first led to the addiction. This cycle
and be impossible to break alone, which is why it is critical that
those struggling with addiction receive outside help.
We must spread awareness of addiction, its risk factors, and its
treatment options. Of course, it is important for everyone to know
what to look for if they fear that their loved ones are becoming
addicted, but it is also critical that those already dealing with
addiction know that they are not alone in their struggles.
Normalizing their experiences can build the hope needed to motivate
them in taking steps in recovery. Unfortunately, this may never
happen if individuals do not feel comfortable asking for help. For
this reason, it is imperative that a culture change takes place. We
must encourage one another to reach out for help when they need it-
not just when trapped in an addiction-controlled life, but also when
dealing with acute life stressors. We need to begin teaching coping
skills to children while they are still young, so that they can
discover and develop their own healthy ways to handle stress, such as
meditation, imagery, and talking with supportive others. If we can
normalize the experience of asking for help and transform adaptive
coping strategies into cultural norms, we can create the culture
change necessary to break the socially-influenced cycle of addiction.