Addiction Is a Moral Failing? Please
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Addiction Is a Moral Failing? Please


US News’ Healthy Day column has found that people with addiction problems are a lot more likely to face problems in work and social life in general than those with mental illness because they’re seen as having “morally failed.” The survey US News is referring to is a poll of 700 Americans from a study performed by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. For reference, there are 319 million people living in America and for another reference point, there are roughly 35,000 people in my neighborhood (1.9 square miles). That being the case, there are 700 United States citizens that see alcoholics and drug addicts as moral failures that don’t deserve insurance, housing or employment policies meant to help them.

This wouldn’t make it the first time ever that a minority of Americans are willing to not help or sympathize with certain people, but apparently these same folks are totally cool with the 50-something guy who eats sausage every day getting work and health insurance. Since these Americans, who got free pizza to fill out a sheet for Johns Hopkins, would give this sausage-eating man insurance and a job, then why wouldn’t they give it to the man if I crossed out “sausage” and replaced it with “narcotics” or “rum”? Because of an outdated and close-minded bias stemming from insecurity, fear and lack of education. That’s fucking why.

I have met parents, coaches, teachers, police officers, Oscar winners, comedians, musicians, children, grandparents and politicians who are drug addicts and alcoholics. The definition of mental illness is a “mental or behavioral pattern that causes suffering or impaired ability to function in everyday life.” Hmm, sounds familiar and also like the people in this poll have issues with drug use (I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that they aren’t invited to parties where they’d be offered them). How is it their business that another person is dependent on rewarding substances or activities? Oh, that’s right: if it causes suffering or the ability to function in everyday life. I’m no Malibu treatment specialist but I’d go on the record (that’s exactly what I’m doing, actually) and say that addiction, to me, is almost identical to mental illness but without the 80’s dad glasses.

Study leader Colleen Barry says that “while drug addiction and mental illness are both chronic, treatable health conditions, the American public is more likely to think of addiction as a moral failing than a medical condition.” Their stats are pretty inarguable: 22% of people, they determined, are willing to work closely on a job with a drug addict while 62% are willing to do the same with a mentally ill person. This is the same American public, I probably don’t need to remind you, that voted Bush into office (twice) and believes homosexuality is a sin. Oh, I’m a liberal scumbag? This is also the same American public that believes 9/11 was an inside job and that marijuana cures cancer.

Sixty-four percent of those surveyed said employers should be able to refuse work to people with drug addiction, while 25% said the same about those suffering from mental illness. More determinations: 43% said drug addicts should not be given the same health insurance benefits as the rest of Americans while 30% said they believe recovery from drug addiction is impossible. Tell that to me or the millions of Americans who are recovering alcoholics or drug addicts. Someone should tell the poll of people to please inform Robert Downey Jr. of this while they stuff their faces with popcorn at his movies (RDJ made 75 million dollars on his back end deal from Iron Man 3 in 2013 alone; not that money means no drug addiction—far from it—but does he sound much like an unrecovered drug addict to you?

The study’s co-author Beth McGinty, an assistant professor in the department of health policy and management at Hopkins, said that “the more shame associated with drug addiction, the less likely we as a community will be in a position to change attitudes and get people the help they need.” I couldn’t have put it better myself, Beth.

There are a lot of people out there that claim addiction is a choice and not a disease. That’s fine. The only reason I know this is because I actually looked up that exact phrase on Twitter and the results were there right in front of me, many (through my unscientifically proven eyes) of them teenagers trying to appear intelligent and girls with selfies as their profile pictures. Do I even have to say where they’re all from? Didn’t think so. Look, if I want my car fixed, I look for a guy with grease on his hands and if I want sushi I look for a Japanese man with a knife. If I want answers on recovery and addiction, I go to former addicts and doctors.

It’s a damn shame that there are people out there that believe addiction is impossible to recover from and that those recovering or active in it should be treated badly for their troubles. If the people that helped me hadn’t, then I wouldn’t have the clear mind and writing skills to communicate with you the absurdity of this report. And look, I’m very aware that US News is just the messenger and to not shoot them but I have a red dot on their forehead anyway.

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About Author

Carlos Herrera is a comedian, photographer and writer whose work can also be found on The Fix . He has been featured in LA Weekly and has performed at The Hollywood Improv among other places.