Drug addiction may very well be the most misunderstood problem in our society. People who have not experienced the horrors of addiction in their families look with shame and disdain upon both the addict and their families. I was once in this camp, having raised a “normal” family with no history of drug use or incidents with the law. And then my 3rd child, in his teenage years, fell victim to drug addiction and my eyes were opened. In the process of Aaron’s 7 year battle with substance abuse, I was humbled, and I discovered that the views and opinions that people form about addicts are way off base. There are a number of myths about drug addicts, which I would like to address in this blog.
1-Addicts are people who simply choose to use. During President Ronald Reagan’s terms in office, his wife, Nancy, launched a campaign against drugs, using the familiar motto “just say no to drugs.” I consider Reagan to be one of our nation’s greatest leaders of all time, but Nancy’s approach was off base and far too simplistic. Saying no to drugs is good advice for young people who have never tried drugs, but this approach is of little help for those who are already addicted. Drug addiction is a disease. It enslaves its victims, takes over their lives and leaves them utterly powerless, on their own, to overcome. “Just say no” is not as easy as it sounds for a drug addict. Addicts do not simply choose to use-they are in bondage! Deep down, they don’t want to use, but a powerful force has taken over their minds and bodies. People often say, “Why don’t you just stop using drugs?” My friends, it is not that simple. This is one prevailing myth about drug addiction.
2-Addicts are bad people. So many people look with scorn upon drug addicts, lumping them into the same category as murderers, child molesters, rapists, etc. My son, in his teenage years, was confined in the Ingham County Jail numerous times for drug offenses. The deputies would often say to him, “I knew you’d be back,” treating him with disdain. When he was released from jail, deputies would berate him, saying, “It won’t be long and you’ll be back here again.” In the county jail, Aaron was regarded by some deputies as a bad person. In a small town community such as Mason, furthermore, our son was regarded by certain towns-people in the same way. We knew, as his parents and family, that Aaron was not a bad person. As the saying goes, he was a good person with a bad problem. We knew all along, despite his addiction and ensuing legal troubles, that Aaron was a humble, compassionate, caring, sensitive person deep down. To lump all drug addicts into the category of “bad people” is a mistake, as well as a myth.
3-Addicts are losers. A lot of people who have never experienced drug addiction first-hand are guilty of labeling all addicts as losers. Calling somebody a loser is one of the meanest, harshest things you can say. When your child, whom you love, is referred to in this way, it hurts deeply. In Aaron’s sophomore year at Mason High School, pills were found in his duffle bag on the day the baseball team was leaving for Spring Training in Mississippi. The Vice Principal thought the pills were crack cocaine and didn’t allow Aaron to board the bus with his team. Rumors quickly spread in our small town. People were saying Aaron had cocaine and was dealing! A little later in the season, a concerned parent of one of the players called me to inquire about what was going on with Aaron. He told me that some of the parents were calling our son a loser. How that angered me! Many drug addicts are anything but losers. Most are bright, intelligent, and gifted. But they are also suffering with internal pain that the outsider knows nothing about. They may also be suffering from emotional or psychological issues which lead them to self-medicate. To call all drug addicts losers is ignorant, and is another myth about addiction.
4-Addicts are products of bad upbringing. Quite often, people outside the loop of drug addiction ignorantly point the finger at the addict’s parents. “If that kid was raised properly, he wouldn’t have become a drug addict,” people say. Parents of addicts are easy prey. Surely, there wasn’t enough discipline…the rules were not enforced…the child was not kept in check or held accountable…the kid was spoiled, etc. You know, honestly, in some cases drug addicts do come from an unfortunate, dysfunctional home-drugs were used by their parents; the family was torn by adultery, constant quarrels and stress, divorce, etc. But in many cases, drug addicts were raised in solid families, taught sound values, and had “normal” childhood years. Recently, for example, I was touched by the testimony of a police officer who lost her young son to a heroin overdose. She wept as she spoke, and I wept with her. It could have been my son. I am a Pastor. We raised four fine children. My wife and I will celebrate 35 years of marriage on June 29. There were no drugs, alcohol, or smoking in our home, and we had a very loving close-knit family. Two of our four kids fell prey to drugs, but it wasn’t because of a bad upbringing. This is yet another myth about drug addicts-but remember, when you point your finger at others, there are 3 fingers pointing back at you!
5-Addicts have no regard for other’s feelings. Addicts are often perceived as people who do not care about the people in their lives. They are thought of as “monsters,” people without a conscience, who run over loved ones and friends with no remorse whatsoever. Their actions, when influenced by drugs, may portray this image, but in many cases, this is the furthest thing from the truth. Deep down, most addicts do care, and they live with an ongoing feeling of guilt and remorse for what they put others through. Even when in recovery, most drug addicts carry the heavy burden of guilt and shame for the pain they brought upon the people in their lives when using drugs. My son, Aaron, has shared with us about the guilt and sorrow he experienced while using drugs, putting his family through numerous court hearings, as well as incarcerations. Even now, though he is no longer a user, he periodically feels remorse for how his actions affected our lives.
6-Addicts are lost causes. When a person has been addicted to strong drugs for an extended period, it is common for people to give up on them. Turning their backs on the addict and severing all ties, people commonly place them in the “lost cause” category. “So and so is a hopeless heroin addict…cocaine addict…meth addict…he will never change. I am done with him,” people so often think or say. What a myth! There is no such thing as a lost cause. Stories and testimonies abound of people who had reached their lowest point, and rose from the depths of addiction. People who appeared to be dead, but are now alive. People who seemed to be lost, but now are found. Let me ask you, who gave us the right to deem another human being as a lost cause? Are we perfect, without blemish or flaw? Did God give up on us? When there is life, there is hope.
Read this passage from Romans 5:6-8, which speaks of God’s unfailing love for all of us, sinners in his eyes. “For when we were still without strength, Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man some would even dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Even though we are all unworthy sinners, God didn’t turn his back on us. He sent his son to die for our sins, in our place. Yes, drug addicts are sinners. But Christ died for their sins. We are sinners, and Christ died for us. If God didn’t turn his back on us, who are we to turn our back on anyone else, including an addict?
I do not claim to be a perfect father-I am nowhere close to perfection. But I never gave up on my son, Aaron, and I never stopped loving my son. Aaron’s struggle with drugs over a 7 year period enlightened me about the myths of drug addiction, and it is my hope that, as you consider these six common misunderstandings, you too will come to a better understanding of both addiction, and the addict in your life. God bless you!
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