We tend to stereotype people around us. We believe that individuals can be predicted to behave in a certain way based on their religion, caste, sex and race. This is of course a faulty way of understanding a person. Diversities exist within these groups. This week’s article questions the negative stereotyping our society has constructed for drug addicts and alcoholics. By having a hostile and unfavourable attitude towards these identities, we may be doing them more harm than good. An emphatic approach would help them realize that there is a chance for redemption. After all, they are also human and have as many flaws and virtues as any other person.
Alcoholics and Drug Users: A different Approach
T. Thungdeno Humtsoe
Asst. Professor, Dept. Of
Alcoholism or drug addiction is a form of individual as well as social disorganisation created by individual’s maladjustments with the complex conditions of the modern society. A grave social evil like this is the result of the operation of mixed factors. It could be due to psychological causes like getting ‘kicks’ and ‘thrills’, relieving tension, avoiding boredom, easing depression, satisfying curiosity or physiological factors like removing pain, getting sleep or social causes like challenging social values, to become acceptable to friends, for companionship and fun, facilitating social experiences, to set new social trends etc.
Substance abuse is said to be an ugly diseases posing a big challenge to the society. It is associated with social disgrace and dishonour.This disease of addiction creates a lot of distance between the people who are afflicted by it and those who are not. The community, friend’s circle and even their own family members look down upon him/her.
There are a number of different stereotypes that people associate with drug addicts and alcoholics. These typical opinions are generally negative, and may consist of the belief that a substance user has been a victim of a bad upbringing, troubled background and broken family. They may also adopt the theory that drug addicts are unemployed, high school dropouts or even prostitutes. The reality is much more nuanced. The use of alcohol and other drugs among teens and youths is actually higher in middle or upper class families. And not all drug users are unemployed or uneducated or have had a poor upbringing, school dropouts or sex workers.
Our perception of what a “drug user” or an “alcoholic” actually differs from reality. We wouldn’t call famous existentialist Jean Paul Sartre with his love of amphetamines and mescaline, a “drug user”. We wouldn’t call renowned mathematician Paul Erdos, who extensively used Benzedine and other stimulants, a “drug user”. We wouldn’t label world’s famous musicians like Elton John, Eminem, Elvis Presley, Bob Marley, Paris Hilton and Paul Mc Cartney as “drug addicts” with their reliance on drugs like Cocaine, Heroin, LSD, Cannabis etc. We wouldn’t call the world’s famous personalities like Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Angelina Jolie with their dependence on drugs and other stimulants, a “drug user”. We also should not tag the English romantic poet John Keats and a celebrated English social reformer and philosopher Florence Nightingale with their dependence on Opium as a “drug user”. And of course, I think it’s safe to say that enough people believe that Barack Obama was a good choice for President despite his admitted cocaine use.
The point here is not to glorify neither to speak ill of such famous people who led successful lives despite diving into recreational drugs, but rather to illuminate the one caution to all drug use that people seem to forget. Maybe drugs and alcohol work differently for everyone. Some people have to go their whole lives without drinking alcohol or taking drugs. Some people can extensively use stimulants and become acclaimed academics, professionals, rock stars etc; others end up in gutter; and yet others end up somewhere in between. Thus, we need to understand that an addiction can be beyond a person’s control and it can be unfair to hold harsh opinions of addicts.
It’s all too easy to stereotype people when frightening buzzwords such as “drug user”, “ drug addict”, “drug abuse” or “alcoholic” pop up. It’s even easier to proselytize those people and easier still to condemn them for their behaviour. But the truth is often deeper than labels can manage to describe, and when our stereotypes lead to prejudice and disrespect, we commit the same mistake that everyone else does. Addiction does not and should not discriminate between different types of people as they are equal members of the society: people who are parents, employees, friends, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters. These people may be extremely successful in their work, more intelligent, talented, kind, helpful, honest and generous than the rest because an addiction does not define the intelligence, personality or other characteristics of a person.
Although it is understandable that an addict suffers the consequences for their dangerous and chosen involvement, the penalty should not extend to the point of being treated indifferently. The negative stereotype associated with drug use could make it difficult for some people to find help. They will find it hard to admit that they are addicted to a drug if the common view of an addict is so undesirable and far from the truth. Many ex-users suffer discrimination that affects their well being and future due to their past mistakes, despite having gone through the process of getting well again. Employers are reluctant to hire an addict or ex-addict because they are viewed as unreliable- and rightly so in some cases. Yet there are many who have turned their life around and worked hard to do so.
We need to have a better understanding of the range of people it may affect and help and care must be provided to those who are struggling with addiction. They deserve a chance to live their life fully like the rest, a good future, a hope and they ought to be accepted by the members of the society. We, as a responsible and concern citizens should try to look past a person’s past mistakes or even current way of living and make an effort to simply consider them as another human being; one with family, perhaps a job, hobbies and primarily their personality. Personality is the foundation of judgement and the opinions formed on stigmas such as social habits are faulty and superficial. All of us need to work together not only to prevent people from becoming victims of this problem, but also to bring back the addicts and the recovered addicts into the mainstream of social life.