So recently, news broke that Demi Lovato had been rushed to hospital due to a suspected drug overdose. She previously went into rehab in 2010 for professional help with substance abuse and had been honest about her struggle with drug addiction. Going as far as to recently admit to her fans, that she had relapsed on June 21st via twitter. While there were the usual troll comments, the majority of things I saw on social media were words of support and encouragement instead of condemnation, however, it begs the question. Are words of support alone helpful?
It’s no secret that Demi was a child star so, it’s fair to highlight the correlation between early stardom and addiction. It seems that these vulnerable children are introduced to a very volatile industry without the necessary emotional support to become stable adults. Whether it’s the pressure of being in the public eye during their formative years or being forced to be adults before they’re ready, it seems to be a trend for these celebrities to struggle with addiction.
Yet, people still crave fame because they see themselves as different from those who have fallen victim to this pressure. Though we cannot deny that a large proportion of the most public cases of celebrities struggling with addiction were once child stars it’s not just these celebrities that suffer. The definition of “celebrity” is changing to include anyone with a phone and a social media following. Social media sells the dream that anyone can make it, and the glamour of stardom overshadows the overwhelming pressure of constant scrutiny that it allows.
As with most things, I don’t think social media is all bad. Despite putting pressure on people to constantly show us a perfect life, it also allows them to be more transparent with us. It makes it easy to show that fame and fortune isn’t everything. I think this view towards drugs and drug addiction is changing because we are more aware of the influences that lead to addiction. As we become more and more invested in social media, we mustn’t forget that we too are susceptible to a similar pressure as these celebrities. Drug abuse isn’t a problem reserved for celebrities. Life can put pressure on us all.
At its core, I believe that addiction is emotional. The connection to the drug is emotional, people fall in love with the feeling that drugs give them not necessarily the process of taking drugs, people fear the potential backlash for taking drugs from their loved ones and sadly people tend to only seek help when they emotionally hit rock bottom which tends to be after they hit rock bottom physically. This means that logically the approach to dealing with drug addiction should also be emotionally motivated.
As a generation we understand that people addicted to drugs have problems that lead them to drugs instead of seeing drug addicts as fundamentally bad people. This understanding of addiction is crucial for tackling the problem of drug abuse in our society. Studies show that isolating recovering drug addicts doesn’t help them with recovery but rather hinders their progress. Social media, and celebrities being honest and open about their addiction create opportunities for us to get a better understanding of addiction and offer people support.
This is something Portugal has taken into consideration whilst trying to tackle their nationwide issues with drugs. In 2001 they decided to decriminalise all drugs and they have seen a decrease in the use of drugs. They aimed to make it easier for people to seek help with drug addiction as by decriminalising drugs it took away from the stigma associated with drug use. If you were caught with drugs you were given a small fine or told to appear before a local commissioner to find out about treatment and support services that were available. These local commissioners were not part of law enforcement but rather Doctors, Social Workers or a Lawyer instead of a Judge or a Police Officer. This creates a sense of community support, and the initiative incited positive change. HIV is a virus known to be spread through the sharing of needles, and therefore closely linked to drug use. The rate of HIV cases dropped from 104.2 new cases per million in 2000 to 4.2 new cases per million in 2015. While this reduction can’t be solely attributed to the drug policy it would incorrect to dismiss its effect. At the very least the policy was a reflection of a cultural change in opinion towards drugs and drug addiction.
While the US still has a long way to go, there is a lot of discussion about changing drug laws. Nine states and Washington DC have legalised marijuana for recreational use for adults over 21. But unlike Portugal, the focus has been on the positive effect on the economy rather than focusing on creating support systems for those struggling with substance abuse. This means that the fear of being found to use drugs and facing the shame from loved ones as well as the punishment from law enforcement, leads to people not seeking help until it’s nearly too late. If it wasn’t for her overdosing, we don’t know if Demi would still be alive today. But maybe if the stigma of drug addiction wasn’t there, and we were more sensitive to the pressures which influence abuse, she, like many others, would have sought help earlier.
If you are suffering from addiction and need help please contact the organisations below:
Written by Jade Egemonye