Name: Billie S...
From: Anchorage, Alaska
School: University of Alaska Anchorage
The Voices That Matter
Although it is often treated as such, Addiction is much more than bad habits and poor decisions. Pain, whether it be mental or physical, is at the root of this nation’s addiction crisis. Addiction eats away at a person little by little, until all that’s left is an empty bottle and the realization that they have lost control of their life. Unfortunately, many of us were told as children that addiction comes from one bad choice, pushed by bad people. But as the child of an opioid addict, I can tell you that there was no single bad decision that took my father away from me. My father, like many others, was in a lot of pain. He found relief in his drug of choice, but like every person who struggles with addiction, he was left with an ache inside that never eased.
Not everything we find comforting is good for us. Addiction often begins when a person turns to substances as a coping mechanism, leading them to feel that they need that substance to function, or even survive. But as time goes on, substance abuse inevitably takes a toll on the body and mind. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 67,367 people in the United States died of a drug overdose in 2018 alone. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 30 lives are lost to drunk driving crashes every day. Every day there is someone who loses there life because of substance abuse. This is not a problem that only impacts criminals, or impoverished people, or whatever other preconceived stereotypes you were taught to believe. The addiction crisis hurts all of us.
If we as a society wish to put an end to this addiction crisis, we need to show the same compassion to people suffering from addiction as we show those that are ill. Addiction is a disease. Fortunately, it is treatable, and many people are able to recover with the proper resources and treatment. We must recognize that those suffering from addiction need support and understanding in order to heal, not shaming, isolation, or punishment. To remedy this crisis we need to see addicts as more than just statistics, and give them back their humanity. We need to hear their stories, listen to their needs, and provide safe environments for them to heal.
I was seventeen when my father passed away, and if I could have just one thing, it would be to go back and listen to him. It is easy for society to paint addicts as a problem to eradicate, rather than members of society. While I feel passionate about advocating for those impacted by addiction, the voices that matter most in this conversation are those who are suffering. If we are to put an end to the pandemic that is addiction, we must first learn to listen.