Addiction Awareness Scholarship Campaign 2020 – Addiction: It Does Not Have One Face


Addiction: It Does Not Have One Face



Kennedi Wilson


Title: Addiction: It Does Not Have One Face


There are many societal stereotypes around addiction and what addiction looks like that were placed upon me during my childhood from educators and media. I have been told that “addiction is a choice,” “crack is for blacks,” “do drugs and you will end up on the streets,” “addictions only exist in poor areas with minorities.” Not once was it ever disclosed to me that the meaning behind addiction is so multifaceted. It was not until I delved into public health and worked with diverse and vulnerable populations that I gained a true perspective of addiction and recognized the value in the stories behind addiction. I do not believe that the national addiction crisis is based off of one sole reason; it is the sum of circumstances, personal situations, economic instability, trauma, health, individual experiences, predispositions and many more aspects that affect us all at the individual level. There are three aspects I will highlight within this narrative based off of my personal experiences which are cost of healthcare, mental wellness and the human condition.

I was given the opportunity to volunteer with a homeless service organization in a qualitative research study regarding alcoholism and substance abuse. In this experience, I went out into the homeless communities and conducted survey-based interviews. While conducting interviews, I realized that society has misconceptions of the homeless population, especially with addiction. Many of those that I spoke with obtained jobs and used drugs in order to cope with their reality, which is not what society portrays. One individual in particular discussed his journey to addiction with me. This gentleman experienced childhood trauma (mentally, physically, and emotionally) by his parents. At the age of 8, he was introduced to Marijuana and Xanax. He was kicked out from his home at the age of 16, when he became homeless. Struggling with the rejection from his family and fear of his life with nowhere to go, he began to feel depressed and empty. He fell into using, an old habit he picked up at age 8. He wanted to be numb and not to feel. When talking to him about mental health, he revealed that he had no knowledge of resources such as Healthcare for the Homeless or places where he could gain access to mental healthcare, nor did he think he would ever be able to afford them since he could not even afford shelter or food. This gentleman was the story of others I spoke with in this community. In fact, many did not partake in using drugs or gain addictions until they were homeless. This story highlights how human conditions can lead to a road of addiction; he was abandoned as a child, he was pre-exposed to drugs and he suffered from poor mental wellness. It also demonstrates how individuals can be reluctant to seek medical attention to deal with life obstacles because of cost.

Furthermore, I was a graduate intern with a non-profit organization that focuses on providing comprehensive and well-rounded care through an intense program to women whom have suffered from addiction and homelessness. In this experience women came from all walks of life; some were my age, some were much older, from all races and various lifestyle backgrounds. Many of the women shared their journey to addiction with me; two of the women shared stories that are often disregarded. One was a Caucasian woman was in her mid 40’s, she had three children, and a loving husband. After the birth of her third child she suffered from post-partum depression. She sought out medical help from professionals and fell into addictive habits with depression and anxiety medications. Her family attempted to admit her for in-patient treatment, but she refused from fear of others finding out and having negative things to say about her. Eventually her addiction took over her life, she was removed from the home and became homeless until she enrolled in a program to regain her life back. The other woman was Hispanic around the age of 70 and was a famous financial advisor, who began to struggle with the high stress demands of her work. She was introduced to numerous substances by her clients. Over time her dependence of the substances grew, she was fired, lost all of her assets and became homeless. Often times, there are misconceptions that addiction has a certain image, a certain race, a certain age, a certain economic status, a certain upbringing. Here are two individuals with very different stories on how they gained addictions, medical conditions and work stress. What we must acknowledge is that addiction does not bear one face and that we must deep dive to the root drivers in order to create effective change.

The homeless gentleman’s story and the stories I was lucky to hear from the survivor women could have been anyone’s story. It could have been me or you. As a nation, more efforts need to be placed on the mental health workforce and awareness, in our schools, in our jobs, in our communities; more specifically, we need mental healthcare that is easily accessible and affordable for everyone. Increased awareness and education can help change the connotation around mental health and trauma, and provide insight on healthy methods for addressing the challenges that we will experience in life. There needs to be more work upstream in order to reduce or see changes in addiction crisis. Additionally, as a nation there should be more opportunities for drug recovery and treatment programs that are cost affective. Negative stigma, low access and high cost around mental health is a dominant driver of the addiction crisis. These aspects trickle down to the societal and individual levels leading to people disregarding and minimizing mental wellness or mental health diseases, and trying to self-medicate for relief. As these aspects are addressed from a societal and larger perspective, more individuals will get the care that they need.