Addiction and its side-effects have been part of my life since before I can remember. I have dozens of anecdotes about growing up around addiction but they aren’t worth repeating here. Loving an addict is one of the hardest things to do, and to come to terms with because it’s like an unrequited relationship that you can’t move on from. Loving an addict shaped who I am, it hurt me repeatedly, made me depressed, hardened me and now fills me with the desire to know more about what can be done to help both addicts, and those that love them.
I’ve been reading up on some of the reasons people become addicted to various things, including a bit about neurotransmitters and pathways in the brain and lots about the history of why we think a ban on drugs will fix the problem of addiction. I am hoping I can answer some questions: What can genuinely help an addict overcome their need for a substance or anything for that matter? Why are we taught that addiction is shameful and detrimental to society? Why do we label addicts as scum, low-lifes, degenerates, lazy, weak? When I thought about it, my loved one is none of these things.
Looking back over the past generations in my family and more generally at the south-asian community and addicts, I noticed just how many people experienced ‘functional’ addiction. The weddings I’ve been attending are incredibly telling, in that I see the same people again and again at different events, and I see them drink heavily again and again. In Indian culture, the idea of addiction isn’t confronted. The men in our community often drink heavily and it’s seen as a manly norm, women are of course not expected to drink (once again, yay for being female). But in a culture that drinks so heavily and so often with only positive connotations, why is addiction such a shock and shame? In such a culture, how can an addict even hope to live an abstinent life if at every gathering, every social meeting, it is considered rude if you turn down a drink. A drink that you may want and need quite desperately.
Being an alcoholic or an addict in any other way is seen as a weakness, you can’t ‘control’ yourself? Why can’t you just stop? Why isn’t anything else good enough for you? Being the one asking the questions can be the most hurtful and excruciating experience, especially when the person you’re asking is a loved one. I continue to struggle with my emotions but recently, I’ve been wondering what it’s like to be asked those questions. What it’s like to be branded something that defines you as something you’re not.
Addiction destroys relationships, and I wonder now, by rebuilding and fortifying relationships instead of abandoning them, what if we can drive addiction out. What if the chemical makeup of an addict’s brain can be changed back after being altered by substance?
This is just the start of my learning journey and the above questions need to be answered. I’m currently reading ‘Chasing the Scream’ by Johann Hari and am looking forward to learning more. Check out his TED Talk here on addiction and redefining how we look at it.