I don’t know if I was blessed or cursed, but I never became an alcoholic or drug abuser during the course of my life. I wanted to, but was refused the opportunity. My (ex)husband decided we were teetotalers right before my 21st birthday, and illegal drugs were definitely out of the picture. Even legal, prescription drugs were out of the picture since he didn’t believe in Western medicine.
Women who have been abused are 15 times more likely to become alcoholics and 9 times more likely to become drug users. When interviewed during intervention therapy, 69% of women being treated for substance abuse were sexually abused as children. Even relationships not typically viewed as abusive can lead to addictions to escape from the mental abuse of a cheating spouse.
Stereotypes aside, most people who pursue substance abuse and alcoholism do so as an escape from intolerable conditions in their lives. Does this mean it’s OK? Absolutely not. Is every lush or addict a victim of horrible abuse? Probably not… although it might depend on what you categorize as abuse. Gang violence, poverty, and lack of options are primary causes for drug use in certain areas (along with the increased risk of abuse they present).
Studies in mice show an increased social support network decreases substance abuse. When mice were locked, alone, in a cage with access to various addictive drugs, they became abusers, increasing dosage over time. Once other mice were re-introduced to the addicted mouse, substance use decreased over time. Eventually, the addicted mouse was able to wean themselves off the drugs, and all it took for them to begin the process on their own was a support network being introduced.
Now, I’m not providing apologetics for addicts. Far from it. However, I don’t think jail time is the answer. Abuse is a cycle. The majority of abusers were abuse victims themselves, and addiction is one of the catalysts for the change. In the same way a soldier with PTSD needs to be held accountable (and face consequences for) domestic violence, so do drug abusers; but it needs to be in the form of help for the individual, not condemnation.
Before you judge the woman stumbling home from a bar, stop and think about why she’s drinking so much. Everyone has bad days, but alcoholism forms because of a felt need to escape reality every day. When your mind is filled with images, sounds, and other reminders of a rape, drugs or alcohol provide a convenient escape, especially if you don’t have a support network or the money to get counseling.
Instead of judging people, we should be helping them. Instead of jailing addicts and users, we need to be offering support and counseling, drug rehab programs that are heavy on therapy, and opportunities to improve life past the current level. Addiction is a disease of despair. Provide hope for the hurting and you will see an improvement in every aspect of society.
Judge less, help more. Maybe you’ll need help next.