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Many People View Drug Addicts As Losers

A societal generalization occurs in many Americans when thinking about addiction and drug addicts.  Addicts are often thought of as a sub-culture of people who succumb to hedonism and impulse; who have no self-control; and who may even be bad people.  Some may view addicts as a drain on the society’s resources and funds.  Others may fear that addicts will corrupt their children.  A bias exists amongst employers who are not willing to hire former addicts, or someone with a criminal record related to drug abuse, and who require a drug test for hire and many times thereafter.  In child protective services cases, before children are even considered to be returned to their parents, the parents must pass a drug test, even if the original reason that the children were removed was not drug related.

Who Am I To Cast The First Stone?

All of the negative stereotypes and fears about addicts, and about any group of disadvantaged people for that matter, stems from a place of ignorance and fear.  People fear what they don’t understand, and the general population does not really understand drug addiction.  As humans, we tend to reject things that do not fit into our world of understanding.  There are lots of reasons why we judge addicts: We would never engage in drug use (and we believe everyone should be just like us); We don’t know anything about drugs or why people use them, and therefore that behavior is just wrong; We are afraid of drugs because we have heard stories or had a relative who was touched by addiction, but we still know very little about it; We have thought about using drugs ourselves, but don’t want to be one of those people; Our parents and friends believe that drug addicts are bad people…and the list goes on.  As you can see, most of these reasons are rooted in the fact that a snap judgement was made based on a lack of knowledge and fear.

Reasons Why People Get Started Using

People begin abusing drugs and alcohol for a variety of reasons, and some for multiple reasons.  Studies that have surveyed drug users have found that the most commonly reported reasons for engaging in drug use among young users was to relax, to fit in, to boost self-confidence, and to alleviate bad physical or emotional feelings.  Most often, the drug of choice was determined by the functional use of the drug.  In other words, people used drugs because of what the drug could do for them, not because the drug was available, and not because they had an impulse to do so.  These studies focus on the users; not so much the abusers and the dependents.  But this is where it starts.  Note that only one of the four listed reasons for using drugs is unrelated to a mental health issue.

Addicts Are Victims

Addicts are victims of a disease process known as drug addiction.  It often has a hereditary component, and can cause as much, if not more, suffering and pain than other well-recognized medical and psychiatric health disorders.  Addictions are often a secondary result or symptom of another life problem. For example, as noted above, drug users often begin using to make themselves feel better about being in a group, as they may have social anxiety or be shy and awkward.  They may lack the natural coping skills to manage their anxiety in such a situation, therefore turning to drug use to help them.  They are a victim of their anxiety.

Below are five reasons why addicts could be considered victims, as opposed to losers, although the list could go on much longer.


A very common reason that people abuse drugs is for self-medication.  Like drug abuse, there is a stigma in American society about mental health care.  People do not want others to think that they are mentally unwell or unfit, and therefore use illegal drugs instead of seeking professional help.  People self-medicate many kinds of mental health problems, ranging from mild depression to severe psychosis.  A number of drug addicts have a diagnosis that falls into the category known as “dual-diagnosis”, in which a person suffers from both a mental illness and a substance abuse disorder.  The duality of the diagnosis is that one often feeds off of the other, exacerbating symptoms of either side when symptoms of the other are not well controlled.  This can make treatment and recovery very challenging.


According to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, over 28 million Americans are children of alcoholics.  This means that 28 million people in our society grew up watching one or both of their parents drink regularly and experienced the negative aspects of alcohol.  To make matters worse, children of alcoholics and drug addicts are 3-4 times more likely than their peers to have drug or alcohol problems in adolescence and adulthood.  This is not a good statistic.  These 28+million people who grew up in addicted households not only likely have a genetic predisposition toward addiction, but also watched their role models engage in addictive behaviors, and learned that this was the way to live life.

Childhood Abuse/Trauma And Early Childhood Experiences.

There is a high percentage of children of alcoholics and drug addicts who also have, unfortunately, experienced abuse, neglect, and/or trauma of some kind.  These children then carry their trauma into adult life, along with their childhood experiences with their parents, and become addicts themselves.  There is no clear explanation as to why the rates of child abuse are higher amongst alcoholic and addicted parents, however, there are many speculations.  A parent’s job it to put their child first, and do what is best for their child before anything else.  However, an addict’s first priority is always, and will always be, their drug of choice.  This trumps even their own children in many cases.  So when a child is in need and a parent does not have the drug of choice, the child’s need may go unmet in order to acquire the drug.  The child may be left alone or with strangers while the parents acquire the substance.  Drunken or high strangers may be in the house and may act in ways toward the children that they may not act if not under the influence.  These children then repeat the same patterns with their own children unless the cycle is broken.  Therefore, addiction could be considered to be a generational victimization.

It’s A Psychiatric Disorder…A Disease!

The DSM-V (Diagnostic Statistical Manual, 5th edition; the manual used to diagnose mental disorders) classifies drug abuse and drug use as psychiatric disorders, with the key feature for diagnosis of any of the disorders in this category being the inability to stop using despite problems directly related to the drug abuse/use.  The DSM-V describes the way in which the circuits of the brain are changed by continued drug use, citing this as a reason for frequent relapse.  The DSM-V also notes that there is a strong genetic component to drug abuse/use, indicating that the disease runs in families.  Specific diagnostic criteria are established for each of the different drugs of choice, as each has different effects on the brain and on behavior, although the key characteristics include that the abuse/use causes impairment to the user’s physical or emotional health, daily life functioning, social/interpersonal relationships, and/or work performance, and the person continues to use despite these impairments.

Classical Conditioning

Some of the most well-known behavioral research studies come from Ivan Pavlov.  Pavlov tested the idea of conditioning, and his original studies focused on conditioning the salivation responses in dogs.  Dogs will naturally salivate when food is presented to them.  Pavlov found, though, that he could pair this salivation response with the ringing of the bell, and, over time, the dogs would salivate only to the sound of the bell.  This is what was known as a conditioned response.  This principle has been extended to all types of behavior, and is one of the foundational concepts used when understanding human behavior.  Drug addiction could be described using conditioned response principles.  A person first uses drugs because they are around others who are doing the drugs.  The person finds that the effects are pleasurable, and then does the drugs again.  The person then finds that the drugs help her/him decrease feelings of anxiety, and will use the drugs in anxiety provoking situations.  Over time, the person will be unable to enter anxiety provoking situations without the use of the drugs, because she/he has conditioned her/his brain to respond without anxiety when the drug is present, but not when the drug is absent.  Therefore, drug abuse in anxiety provoking situations has become a conditioned response.  Fortunately, Pavlov also provided research that helps reverse conditioned responses, so that the anxiety provoking situation may be unpaired with the drug use, and the person can learn to successfully navigate anxiety provoking situations without the use of drugs.


This article is not written to excuse the behavior and actions of drug addicts and alcoholics. However, the purpose is to shed light on the fact that addiction is an affliction that some people have to learn to manage.  When others judge addicts for their drug use or related behaviors, they often fail to take these things into consideration.  Drug addicts, then, begin to believe themselves to be bad people, as life circumstances are often forgotten and the judgments are placed on the character of the addict rather than on behaviors.  This is not helpful as the addict moves toward and through recovery.  In order to better support a recovering addict, help that person understand that their reasons for addiction are a culmination of biology and life circumstances, and treat that person with a little more compassion for knowing that.

Contact Clearbrook Today

If you or someone you know and love is currently struggling with drug addiction or alcoholism, we can help. For 45 years, Clearbrook Treatment Centers has been providing quality treatment to the chemically dependent person and offering treatment and education to the affected family unit.

By offering a medically managed detoxification program, coupled with an abstinence-based model of treatment, our patients have the opportunity to truly experience what recovery is all about. If you are ready to make a change, please contact our Admissions Specialists today.




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