Addiction Awareness Scholarship Campaign – The stigma around addiction

Name: Sarah Poole

The stigma around addiction

I turned sixteen, I started working at a local pizza restaurant. I
was given the job of answering phones—every Friday I would start my
shift right as the dinner rush started. Needless to say, juggling
four phone lines simultaneously was not good for my social anxiety.
I had a couple days where, on my ten-minute unpaid break, I would go
to the back of the kitchen and cry because of how rudely people would
speak to me on the phone. The only one who noticed was Jordan, who
was a sort of outcast from the rest of the employees there. He would
ask me how my day was going much more often than anyone else who
worked there, and he seemed to genuinely care about my wellbeing and
my anxiety. And one day, when I asked him about the large bandage
that appeared on his arm and he told me it was due to self-harm, I
felt a little less alone in my world.

years later, I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw a familiar
face. An obituary for Jordan had shown up on my feed. Many, many
people were sharing condolences for his family in the comments of the
post. Although I didn’t know Jordan very well, it came as a shock
to me that he could have died so young—not much older than myself.
It was only when I asked my old coworker from the pizza restaurant
about it that I learned Jordan had been a heroin addict for years.

wasn’t extremely shocking to me. I had known he had had a lot of
issues, and I assumed some of them were drug related. But then I
started considering the way everyone at the restaurant treated him
due to his addiction. They would treat him like he was dirty. When
they criticized him, they would be outwardly mean to him. And the
owner was the worst of all. He was a conservative, anti-welfare,
rich white man who was so hardworking he looked down on anyone who
didn’t work as hard as he did. When a woman called the restaurant
angry that there was a hair in her food, quite literally everyone in
the kitchen except for me automatically assumed it was Jordan. I
would try to stand up for him in situations like that, but it was
hard to get my 16-year-old female voice to be heard above a bunch of
20-something-year-old men.

a second, I tried putting myself in Jordan’s shoes. If I were
addicted to heroin and I had a shitty day at work, got yelled at for
something that I didn’t do or was out of my control, and constantly
felt like an outcast from my coworkers, I would go home afterwards
and feel so shitty that I would fall deeper into my addiction.
Addiction is a vicious cycle; the more you get addicted to an illicit
drug, the more your friends and family cut you out, the more you rely
on the drug, etc. It broke my heart that such a kind soul as Jordan
fell into that cycle.

reform should not be focused on “taking those drugs off the
streets,” as politicians say. Most opioid addicts start their
addictions on prescribed pills, then switch to street drugs when the
pills are no longer available. Additionally, the availability of
drugs is hardly the problem—people will find drugs one way or
another. The biggest reason behind drug abuse, in my opinion, is the
horrible stigma around drug use. Even marijuana—a nonaddictive
drug that is empirically much less harmful than alcohol—was
considered a gateway drug to opioids. Not to mention hard drugs like
cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines, that are quite physically and
mentally harmful to the individual.

have had many people I know succumb to drug abuse. My cousin Kyle,
when he was 23, overdosed on heroin. My other cousins, Samantha and
Randy, have been battling their addictions to opioids for years.
Three of my four grandparents were alcoholics at some point in their
lives. So, it is pretty likely that I have the “addictive
personality” gene somewhere in my system. The question is, how do
I avoid becoming an addict like so much of my family before me?

individual can’t be blamed for their addiction. Addiction rises
from all kinds of things, such as depression, a feeling of
loneliness, a needing to feel a sensation, etc. The addiction itself
cannot be mitigated, but these underlying problems can. Greater
access the mental health treatment, especially in inner city areas
where addiction is most prevalent, would greatly benefit the
community. Also, more safe spaces where addicts can go to counselors
and openly talk about their addictions without fear of getting
interrogated or arrested. These are only a couple of examples of
things that could decrease the number of drug addicts in the country.

the bigger picture is the stigma around drug use. Once that is
destroyed, nothing else will stand in the way. Once people are free
of judgement for their drug use and habits, they will not feel as
though they need to dive deeper into their drug to feel a sense of
relief from the loneliness in their lives.