Name: Tiffany ...
From: Chesapeake, VA
School: James Madison University
Media and Substance Abuse
In nearly every television show, commercial, and movie there is a common thread for depicting fun and carefree times. That is, actors and celebrities are shown engaging in party behavior which includes using drugs and alcohol. Even in high school movies, where the actors are portraying underage teens, getting drunk or high is overwhelmingly presented as the primary way to have a good time. The use of alcohol and drugs as a symbol for fun in America is extremely unhealthy and, unsurprisingly, leading to addictions in youths, teens, and adults. Through observational learning from a young age, individuals are absorbing the message that they must drink or do drugs to be accepted by the popular crowd. Therefore, it is understandable that media plays a large role in our nation’s addiction crisis.
Addiction hits quite close to home for me since my grandmother struggled with drug and alcohol addiction throughout her entire adult life. My grandmother raised my mother in the projects of New York where drugs, alcohol, and gangs were part of their way of life. My mother had to move from school to school and experience being evicted from multiple apartments since my grandmother’s addiction prevented her from maintaining a stable job or making payments on time. Throughout her life, my mother tried time and again to help my grandmother get clean. Sadly, every time she would return to the drugs. During our early years, my sister and I had very little contact with my grandmother. This was a direct result of both geographical distance, as well as, her strained relationship with our mother. However, as we got older my grandmother grew sick and turned to the one person who always had tried to help her—my mom. My mother’s extremely kind and loving nature led her to move our grandmother to Virginia so that she could help wean her off methamphetamines through a state-sponsored recovery program. By having her in the state with us and living in our home, my sister and I were finally able to build a bond with our estranged grandmother. Since we were both still young, we were not able to fully comprehend her condition or the reasoning for it. After my grandmother started to get clean, my mom was able to get her into an apartment and help her start a new life for herself. My grandmother began making friends, attending church again, and involving herself in her granddaughters’ interests. Things were just starting to look up, when one night my grandmother was rushed to the hospital. After extensive tests and multiple visits from doctors, we found out that she had cirrhosis of the liver. Although she had finally got her life back on track and was pursuing a healthy lifestyle that included developing strong bonds with her daughter and granddaughters, the consequences of her past actions and mistakes had caught up with her. For the next year-and-a-half my grandmother was in and out of the hospital, sometimes for months on end. Throughout this time, a new addiction had taken hold–painkillers. My mom attempted to monitor her intake, but was unsuccessful. Regardless of her prognosis we all maintained hope, and my mom continued to search for doctors that could help her cause. My sister and I would go to every single hospital visit as a way of supporting and showing love for both my mom and grandma. We would put on little talent shows and paint her nails as a way of entertaining her and keeping positive moods throughout each hospital stay. Our bond with her grew deeper as we shared irreplaceable memories filled with laughter and love. A year-and-a-half after her diagnosis, we all sat in a hospital room hearing the dreaded words “there’s nothing more we can do.” As the words escaped the doctor’s lips, hot tears ran down my face as I realized we did not have much time left with the grandmother who had come into my life only a few years earlier, but I now loved so deeply. That night I went home and prayed to God through my sobs that it was not her time yet. I pleaded to God to give her more time with us. However, since the cirrhosis was quite advanced and she was experiencing numerous complications, there was no other medical option for her to try; especially since she had minimal chances of getting on the liver transplant registry based on her age and substance abuse history. Therefore, only a few weeks later I had to say goodbye to my beloved grandmother. This was the first death of a family member that I had ever experienced in my life, and to this day I can still recall the insurmountable pain and confusion. I would not wish this pain on anyone else, and I pray that nobody else ever has to experience death as a result of addiction.
According the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 128 people die every day after overdosing on opioids in the United States. This statistic only reflects the mortality rate after opioid overdoses, and does not include benzodiazepines, barbiturates, hallucinogens, alcohol, etc. Thus, it is imperative that action be taken in order to minimize the addiction crisis and its consequences in our nation. One approach is through education. In all of my years of schooling, I only learned about drug and alcohol use once in a high school sophomore year health class. Simply one module was dedicated to the education of this crucial topic, which leaves students with many questions and unable to understand the enormous consequences that drugs and alcohol can have on their lives. Thus, students should be taught as early as middle school, and, as frequently as once a year, the dangers and repercussions of drug and alcohol usage. In combination to this improvement on the societal level, more intervention programs and affordable rehabilitation programs should be made accessible to individuals so that they can seek and attain the help they need. It is imperative that if an individual is seeking help, they are able to get it in an affordable and accessible manner, so that they can begin conquering their addiction. Additionally, the media and entertainment industries should reconsider the way they are characterizing drugs and alcohol as party enhancers with no strings attached. Instead, substance abuse organizations, such as The Real Cost, should continue to step in and counter the reckless carefree messages of alcohol and drugs with the harsh realities caused by their effects. Through collaboration and education, we as a nation can move towards a future without an addiction crisis.