Addiction Is A Mental Illness

When we hear about drug addicts, it’s in a negative way. We see them as criminals. We see them as dirty. We don’t want to be associated with them. But we don’t see an addict as someone who needs help. We don’t see addiction as a mental illness. But we should.

It’s time to have an honest conversation about drug addiction.

One of my professors wasn’t in class the other day, and the next class, she explained why. Someone in her family was an addict. She had been 17 months sober, and then she relapsed. She was a mess and needed a place to stay. When my professor told this story, the class was silent. The awkward tension in the room was palpable. No one wanted to talk about it.

My brother suffers from a drug addiction. He was 12 when he was first addicted to his ADD medicine. Then it was harder drugs. It was his whole life. It took a toll on the relationships around him. He was in and out of rehabs. He relapsed often. And now, at 21, he has direction in his life. It took that long for him to want to help himself. It doesn’t mean he’s perfect and not going through problems, but he is working on bettering himself, and that’s what matters.

Imagine being in their shoes. You are doing something you know is wrong, but you can’t stop. And then someone tells you to stop. But you don’t want to and you don’t know how. All you’re going to do is get angry. Drug addicts don’t want to do this to themselves. They don’t want to ruin their lives. Addiction is an illness that people cannot control. It’s like when you eat food that you know is bad for you, but you don’t care.

You can only help someone who is willing to help their own self. They might not be ready for help, and they might not be ready to admit that they need it. You can try to help them, but it will only end in heartache. The best thing that you can do is to create a positive environment where they can ask for help. You stay there for them.

When I was younger, we weren’t allowed to talk about my brother’s addiction. We were shunned in my small town. It created a reputation that didn’t need to be there. Mental health awareness is increasing, and it created a judge-free zone for illnesses. Now it’s time to take it one step further. Addiction is an illness. No addict wants their life go to shambles. They need help, but only when they want it. If we can create an open, judge-free zone with drug addicts, maybe they will be more willing to ask for help.

Originally published on | March 8, 2016

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