For the Love of Drugs: Drugs and Drug Stigma

by Joshua Rosenthal
Imagine that you have an illness, and instead of trying to help you get better, others are viewing you in a negative light and judging you for something you cannot control. Well, that is the reality that addicts live every day in today’s society.
As time goes on, there has been a lot of progress made towards figuring out the motivation and the science behind drug addiction. In the past, those suffering from addiction have been seen in a very negative way, and seen as though they want to be addicted to substances. This stigma still follows these individuals around, but it is improving.
“A lot of people don’t realize, but it’s really hard to just stop using drugs,” Berg stated. Michael Berg is a 30 year old from the Boston area, who has suffered from drug addiction for the past 15 years. “People don’t just wake up one day and decide to become a drug addict,” he explained. Berg comes from the average American home. His parents are still together, they both work, and he always felt supported by them. “My accident is what first got me into drugs.” Berg explained.
When Berg was only 13 years old, he was with a few friends at another friend’s lake house. They all decided to take a ride on the boat while their parents weren’t looking. “We thought that it would be fun to take the boat out and go tubing without any adults around,” he said. While Berg was tubing, the rope from the tube got stuck around the motor of the boat, forcing him under the boat. “My life jacket got stuck on the propeller of the boat and it continually cut open my head and I was drowning,” Berg explained. After this accident, Berg was saved and had to have emergency surgery. This is when he was prescribed very strong, and highly addictive medication at the young age of 13.
“After taking such strong pain killers for so long, I eventually became addicted to the way they made me feel,”  he said. After some time, the high of prescription drugs was not enough, and Berg turned to heroin. “I have been in and out of programs to try and get clean, but it is a lot harder than people think,” Berg explained. After so many years of being addicted to medication and drugs , this dependency has completely taken over Berg’s life, and continues to do so. “I am not using as much as much as I used to, but I still use every now and then,” he said,  “I really want to get clean, and I have made progress but it is still very hard to not give into something that I am so familiar with.” Berg attributes his addiction to the strong prescription he was given after his accident, and although he wants to get clean, it is difficult due to the length of his dependency.
Christina Pol is a 20 year old college student who has both personal experience with drug abuse, and is also studying substance abuse treatment. “Growing up, I was surrounded by drug users including both of my parents.” Pol recalls. She grew up in a small suburb near Boston, where she witnessed first hand the stigma that surrounds addicts. “Many people assumed that they [my parents] were bad parents and that they were neglectful, but it was actually the complete opposite,” she explained. She expressed that growing up, her parents were supportive, loved her, and did nothing that would count as “neglectful”.
Pol continued to explain that when people hear that someone is an addict, their mind automatically assumes a negative connotation; that they are somehow bad people. “My father struggled with depression his whole life,” Pol said, “and at some point he turned to drugs for comfort.”  In many cases, addicts have some other type of mental condition that leads them to begin using. ”Over the past 4 years I have lost both of my parents due to complications from their drug use,” she explains. Pol continued to express how she has nothing but great memories from her childhood and of her parents. She also noted that her  parents struggles with addiction “was and is not their identity”, and that she had  “nothing but positive thoughts in regard to them, although it was difficult to be the daughter of addicts.” She admits there were times when it was tough having two parents who struggled with drug addiction, but there was also a lot of good times that she still holds near and dear to her heart.  “It is important for people to realize that just because somebody is addicted to drugs or alcohol that does not mean that they don’t care about loved ones, or themselves…the substance just takes over their life.” Pol says.
One common element that both Berg and Pol touched upon was the incorrect assumption regarding addicts as people. Both discuss that addiction does not make someone a bad person. Oftentimes, addiction is a result of an illness or unfortunate circumstance, and the people it affects deserve help, not hate.

My drug is your drug.