Above the stigma

“Think about cancer. You and I could both have breast cancer. We could have the same kind, go through all the same treatment. You could get better and I could die, and it wouldn’t be either one of our faults…and we don’t blame each other. No one would blame you for living, no one would blame me for dying…but if it were drugs?

Kennady Drug Issue255Emma Teson
Jean Sokora, the community and school liaison for Preferred Family Healthcare, is in long-term recovery, meaning she’s been sober from alcohol and drugs for 36 years. She is a friend, mother, aunt, daughter and sister. She dropped out of high school, got her GED and has a masters in social work. Sokora is one of many working to dissolve the stigma surrounding addiction.

In a sentence, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is a chronic brain disease which causes compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. Regardless of being an actual brain illness, it’s often viewed as a moral failing on the part of the addict. Society perpetuates a cycle of stigmatizing addicts simply because that’s how it’s always been.

When people picture a drug addict they traditionally think criminal or homeless, junkie or thief. According to the Closing the Addiction Treatment Gap (CATG) initiative, 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 12 are addicted to alcohol or drugs. At KHS, a school of roughly 1,800 students, that would equate to around 180 students, and they might even look like your average teenager.

What all of this comes down to is choice. Being able to make a choice implies a certain level of autonomy and control over one’s actions or situation. Too often, addiction is dismissed as a ‘choice’ and therefore, faults the addict. To take drugs is a choice, but not a dependence on those drugs. No one would choose to be an addict. No one would choose to physically and mentally depend on a bottle or needle. No one would choose to isolate themselves from their family and friends.

Disease isn’t about choice. Unfortunately, society likes to punish addicts. We don’t make recovery easy. Addicts are shamed and looked down upon; disgraced. The sooner we, as a society, can fully recognize addiction as a chronic health problem, the sooner addicts can be free of the constant blame placed on them. We can change our predisposed thoughts about what makes an addict, and view addiction as a disease that isn’t the fault of its victim.

“Addiction may look like this, like I am the face of addiction…and I’m like this amazing, phenomenally contributing member of society,” Sokora said. “I’m not the things
I did, none of us are, because people make mistakes.