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The Culturally Induced Shame of Drug Addiction

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Melissa Deas

Melissa Deas is a Bristol resident who works in Addison County for Spectrum Youth and Family Services teaching classes to people on furlough who have criminal and substance abuse backgrounds. The following is an article that Melissa wrote that appeared in the “Community Forum” section of The Addison Independent on March 26, 2015.

Visiting another state can be an awareness event that one can bring home to one’s own state. While reading the Bangor News in Maine, I found myself very impressed with an obituary a family wrote for a 27 year old man, Ryan Bossie, who died from a drug overdose.

The obituary read, “after losing a hard-fought battle with addiction.”  How many times have we read in other people’s obituaries, “after losing a hard fought battle with a particular disease or a kind of cancer”?  The point of both statements is that they fought what was killing them.  They wanted to live.

So many people assume that a drug addict has a choice.  Few people understand how deeply debilitating the use of drugs can be.  It literally changes your brain chemistry.  One no longer thinks in the way a non-drug user is privileged to think.  A heroin addict searches for her/his next fix like someone who has not eaten in a very long time searches for food.  An addict simply wants to not feel so very bad.  Did it start off for the thrill of a high?  Yes, of course.  However, it quickly becomes a disease, like cigarette smoking becomes emphysema or lung cancer.

A major barrier to conquering drug addictions is that they are so tenaciously connected with shame.  Shame is an emotion that steadily undermines the seeking of help.  If an addict seeks help, gets it and then fails to stay clean, the shame deepens.

We as a culture attach shame to drug addiction.  We cripple the ever-increasing population of people who get caught in the “circling the drain (death) fight” to get help for their addiction by inundating them with shame.  We assure them that they are weak and useless to our society.  It’s a bit like being ostracized by the community because you have a missing arm or because you have cancer or a religious belief differing from what’s the norm.

Is there theft that goes along with this disease?  Yes, of course.  You are talking about desperate people.  At this point, the theft is to help fight the sweating and vomiting and sickness that comes with being a drug addict.  Crime happens!

Ryan’s older brother, Andrew Bossie stated, “I don’t think we should be ashamed of this.”  Andrew could not speak truer words.  I believe that once we remove the shame factor, our brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, uncles and aunts have a better chance of succeeding, because they know their society loves them even though they are unmercifully addicted to such a life-threatening and destructive substance.  What would it be like for someone who has a drug addiction to be able to talk about their addiction to anyone anytime without judgment?  How would that affect and support their ability to recover? How would that affect the readiness of an addict to recover?  Here are questions for all of us to ponder.  Let’s at the very least think about this and decide who we want to be as a responsive community.

—Melissa Deas
High Risk Interventionist
Spectrum Youth & Family Services


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