The Stigma Continues: Philip Seymour Hoffman

philip seymour hoffmanAddiction is a brain disorder, not a choice.[1] Nobody wants to become an addict.1 When addictive substances are used, the chemicals they contain enter the brain and stimulate the limbic system, or the pleasure center, resulting in euphoric feelings.1 The prefrontal cortex is responsible for a person’s judgment and decision-making, and when the limbic system is calling for more of a substance, the prefrontal cortex is supposed to recognize negative consequences and stop a person from using.1 However, substance abuse disables the prefrontal cortex, and it can no longer say “Stop.”1

Addiction is a process.1 It grows over time, and due to the slow progression, it is difficult to recognize by the addict.1 Their brains do not sense danger, and when they eventually do, it is often too late.1

Recovery is meant to help rebuild the damaged prefrontal cortex, so that it may work properly again, helping the person to make healthy and appropriate decisions.1 However, the disease is difficult to recover from. In fact, more people relapse than don’t even after seeing help.[2] Instead of supporting them, society manages to make them feel ashamed.2

Plastered all over the media is the news about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. We know about the 70 heroin envelopes found in his apartment, we know about the syringes and the prescription bottles, and we know about his two decades of sobriety and his recent stay in a short-term rehab program.2 Still, we label the tragedy of Philip Seymour Hoffman as just another celebrity overdose, state that he brought it upon himself, and shame his family.2

Slips and relapses are opportunities for growth, not opportunities to shame.2 Addicts who come clean and seek help should be congratulated for having the courage to do so.2 Addiction is not easy to navigate through. It takes a strong support system and a general understanding.

The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman is just an example of how so many others are treated when they travel down the wrong path.2 In order for the addiction issue in America to improve, America needs to stop stigmatizing and learn the truth.2

Relapse is part of recovery, and pretending addicts can recover and move forward without relapsing is setting them up for failure.2 This also increases their feelings of shame when they do fail.2 Prevention plans are needed, as well as knowing they will not be shamed when they stumble.2

Most people who experience a relapse do get better.2 Let’s stop selling them short.2 Treating relapses as events they should fear does not decrease the probability of it happening.2 Instead, it decreases the probability of anyone finding out it has happened.2

What if it happened to someone you love? Put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel? Lonely, ashamed, confused? Would you wish that everyone would stop judging you and support your need to get clean? Would you want to listen to the long lectures about how drugs are bad? You would want to be accepted. Supported. Embraced. Understood. That’s how people with substance abuse problems get better. Shaming does nothing but hurt.

[1] Hitchens, K. (2011). Addiction is a Family Problem: The Process of Addiction for Families. Retrieved February 5, 2014, from http://www.lianalowenstein.com/addiction.pdf

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