People drinking alcoholically and abusing drugs often pose the image of a homeless person roaming with a shopping cart full of their possessions wearing tattered gray clothing. They are drinking booze out of a brown bag or passed out on the side of the street nodding out of a drug-induced haze. Addiction is something that definitely happens among the homeless community, but they do not make the entire demographic of those who suffer from a Substance Use Disorder (SUD). According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, addiction among the homeless can range up to 38 percent, depending on their drug of choice, which is extremely high but still leaves a discrepancy of 62 percent. This statistic clearly shows that we as a society only see what we want to see regarding addiction. In fact, with video mode right at a person’s fingertips, more news stories are shaming and exploiting homeless people under the influence rather than giving them the empathy and long-term solution to help them get clean, sober, and off the streets.
The truth is that the “normal” people that we see on the street walking, running, and driving cars, are just as susceptible to addiction as anyone else. No gender, race, economic status, or age is ever spared when it comes to who a SUD comes for. The process of developing a substance use disorder is unclear as to how someone actually becomes addicted although there are common factors that are found within those who become addicted. Someone who has experienced trauma, sexual abuse, addiction, or has mental health issues in their own family of origin can use drugs and alcohol as the only coping skill to appease the suffering they have endured.
What’s the common denominator?
People who become addicted to drugs and alcohol are not typically trying to become addicted. Either they think this will not happen to them or they are willing to play roulette with addiction in order to get relief from their discomfort. Although there are exceptions to every rule, most people who become addicted are trying to suppress their emotional pain rather than trying to live with it. Somewhere their ability to cope failed and the only thing that made sense to them was to stop the noise in their head and reach for something to alleviate their pain.
Another piece of the stigma that often comes into play is that society mostly hears about those who are under the influence when they are drinking and driving, stealing, causing violent crimes, or showing signs of mental illness. Rather than look at those who have a substance use disorder with compassion, they endure disdain and judgment and then take on the picture of who is addicted to drugs and alcohol.
What needs to be expressed to the public again and again until everyone understands, is that anyone can become addicted. That means a high school quarterback who recreationally tries heroin for the first time with his friends, a grandmother who underwent hip surgery and took prescribed oxycontin for the pain, or even a successful executive who shows up to work every day, but hits happy hour every evening to relieve the stress can become addicted to drugs and alcohol. These people who do not fit the profile of what addiction is perceived to be can develop a substance abuse disorder. No one is exempt.
Someone who develops the phenomena of craving to drugs and alcohol is at risk, addiction has never been pinpointed to a certain gender, race, economic status, or age. Anyone who uses drugs or drinks alcohol on their first, or their hundredth time, can become addicted to these substances. The only way a person can entirely be spared from becoming addicted is from total abstinence.
How will any changes come about?
The stigma surrounding addiction has changed over the years, but there is still more work to do. As more addicting pharmaceutical drugs become prevalent and the legalization of marijuana continues to come to fruition in more states across the United States, the more we need for the message of addiction and recovery to be expressed countrywide. Understanding that addiction is not a choice and should be treated as a chronic disease, will take some time and effort. Part of that message is relaying the statistics such as those in 2017 when over 70,000 people died of a drug overdose. The terrifying fact is that the number of drug overdoses will continue to increase not only in the homeless population but in every population that uses drugs and alcohol.
The failure of our society comes from people hating the person who is addicted instead of hating the addiction or the substances. Most people who use drugs and alcohol to cope do so because they feel like they have no way out when in reality, they do. We just need to continue the mission to promote the correct knowledge to take away the stigma and give unconditional support to those who feel hopeless in their addiction.
Offering a full range of recovery and mental health services, Detox Center of Colorado offers “Expanded Recovery” to enrich our clients’ lives in mind, body, and spirit. Through evidence-based therapy options and the endless adventure of Colorado, Detox Center of Colorado fosters connection, encouraging clients to get connected to themselves, their peers, their families, and their higher power. With the power of recovery, clients are restored to full health and experience life-changing healing. Call us today for more information: 303-536-5463