You Only Care About Addiction When It's a Celebrity

Pill Head | Rachel Bishop

Many of us are heartbroken over Demi Lovato’s recent relapse. It’s hard to reconcile a talented, hard-working, and beautiful advocate with what we have been conditioned to think drug addiction looks like. It’s a harsh reality-check.

When Philip Seymour Hoffman died, it was such a shame that someone as loved as him had lost the battle with drug addiction. Same with Carrie Fisher, Heath Ledger, Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, etc. And every single time a celebrity is lost to drugs, the internet weeps. Long posts are written about how that celebrity was such a wonderful person, there are candle light vigils, and movie viewings with lots of tissues.

It is quite opposite to what we see when “normal” people become addicts. Friends of friends. Family members. Neighbors. Someone we used to know from high school. At best, we just shake our heads, mumble about what a shame it is, and move on. At worst, we deliver judgment on the deceased.

One summer, I lost three neighbors to heroin overdoses. I remember the ambulances coming to try and revive them. I remember judging them, even though they were long gone. I thought things like “Well, that’s what they get for playing with fire.” There was a sense of relief that there was one less drug addict on the block. Never mind that they left behind family and friends. Never mind that, before the drugs, they had a job, interests, and hobbies. Back then, all I saw was a heroin addict, not a person. I was a child when I had these perspectives, and thank goodness I grew out of it. The same cannot be said for others.

One summer, I lost three neighbors to heroin overdoses.

Drug addiction does not discriminate. Three neighbors. Countless classmates. Friends’ parents. Past lovers. Popular celebrities.

I met C* when we were twelve years old. He was my first boyfriend—adorable puppy love—and was a good kid. He was pure of heart, did goofy Michael Jackson impersonations and taught me how to play Kingdom Hearts. Our romance came to an end before high school, but we still kept in touch. He would pop by my house every now and then, talk to my parents about life, school, and his mom, who was battling kidney cancer. He was one of the sweetest people I ever met. C* overdosed on Vicodin in the winter of 2013. He left behind a beautiful baby.

Again: drug addiction does not discriminate.

Maybe it doesn’t matter until it happens to someone you know. My close friend, D*, is a recovered addict, and even now, years later, I can still see the shadows in his eyes. It’s a constant battle, and he fights hard.

Drug addiction is terrible, but people who do or have used drugs are not terrible humans. They just need help.

We know that addiction is a terrible disease, that oftentimes the people who are victims get to a point where they have no choice but to use. People can still get out of it, but when they do, they not only have to fight their entire lives to stay away from a relapse but if anyone finds out that they are a reformed addict, there is a chance they will be stigmatized. Drug addiction is terrible, but people who do or have used drugs are not terrible humans. They just need help.

I keep reading comments from people who just don’t understand, people who haven’t been educated yet about how drug addiction works. I see variations of “Well, they chose to use the first time,” or “It’s a matter of self-discipline,” or even “I used to use drugs and I’m fine now.” When I read comments like these, I wonder how people can lack so much empathy.

Some people are genetically predisposed to addiction. As far as self-discipline goes, it is also unfair to assume that everyone who is struggling needs to just suck it up and fight it alone. Addiction is a disease. When you are sick, you visit a doctor. If you have diabetes, you seek medicine to help you. Diseases need treatment. Have I made myself clear yet?

That isn’t to say that drug addiction is something that exists in a vacuum, that drug users are always wonderful human beings who are victims to circumstance. Some of you readers may know a shitty person who abuses drugs. Some of you may even know someone who used to be a wonderful person, but after they used drugs, they became someone else, and you’ve just run out of compassion or had to cut them out of your life for your safety or sanity. This article isn’t meant to invalidate these kinds of situations.

The point is, we only care about drug addiction when it’s a celebrity who is experiencing it. It’s easier to have empathy for someone like Demi Lovato, who has made a clear and positive impact on the world, who is talented beyond belief, and also incredibly gorgeous. People have a different reaction towards Demi Lovato versus a homeless heroin addict living on the streets. It is easier to have compassion towards someone who looks the way we do.

So please, spare the sympathy, and try for compassion. While we are mourning Demi’s relapse and hoping for her to recover and stay clean, let’s think about how we can change the cultural attitude we have towards drug users and addiction, and try to have a bit more empathy for drug users. We all look up to Demi and wish her the best. Maybe we can apply that sentiment to others as well.

*Names have been redacted for privacy.

Genetic Predisposition: