Sunday, 15 December 2013

Addiction: A misunderstood disease

One of the most devastating things about the disease of addiction is that it is misunderstood. When your loved one is diagnosed, you feel like your heart has been ripped out and shredded into a million pieces. You cry a river of tears. There are no benefits held, no food brought to your door, and no cards of support in your mailbox because when your child is diagnosed with this deadly disease, silence follows. You feel alone watching your child die a little more each day.

As you try to make sense of it all, you read anonymous comments in media articles – hoping for a sympathetic, understanding voice – but instead you read things like “throw them in jail”, “where are the parents”, “people don’t raise their kids properly and want the taxpayers to fix it for them”, etc. Hurtful things that make you want to go deeper into your shell.

The lack of understanding around the disease is actually one of the hardest parts of the journey for families. Your child has an illness that people consider a moral issue, not a health issue. This makes you feel like you can’t talk to anyone for fear that you or your loved one will be unfairly judged as being bad people.  So you suffer in silence.

Never has there been a disease that so many people think they know everything about, when they actually know very little. People know the consequences of the disease because they see it on the news or read about in the paper such as crime, devastated families, disease and death. They form many opinions about addicts and their families based on these articles. After all, the rule of thumb states that our children will turn out okay if we set good examples for them. What most people don’t realize is that addiction doesn’t follow the rules.

People in recovery from their own addictions know more about the disease than the general public does. They know why they tried drugs for the first time; what the addiction did to them; what it cost them in their lives; and what worked to get them healthy again. These are all very important personal experiences to be shared with others in the hopes of preventing another person from using drugs or to help someone else find their way to good health.  However, the person’s experience alone does not qualify them to be an expert on the disease of addiction.

Addiction is a very complex disease. That is why having an addiction does not make you an expert on it any more than having cancer makes you an expert on that disease. You can speak expertly about your own experience with cancer, but you wouldn’t feel qualified to speak about the many causes of cancer and the inner workings of how it ravishes the body. Why, then, do so many people feel like they are experts on addiction?

As I mentioned earlier, we have many “experts” here on PEI (and elsewhere). Unfortunately, these people are not afraid to share their opinions in the media (letters and/or comments). What they don’t realize (or maybe they just don’t care) is that they are actually contributing to the problem because they are adding to the pain already being felt by families, and they are preventing them from reaching out for help. Because of this, addiction goes untreated and we all pay a price for that as families are torn apart, and our communities become less safe.

As the mother of a youth who experimented with drugs and developed an addiction, I had a lot to learn about the disease since I didn’t have any personal experience. I smoked for a few years when I was younger but easily quit the day I found out I was pregnant, so I likely wasn’t really addicted to cigarettes at all. I am probably more addicted to coffee because I get a headache if I don’t have one in the morning. If these are addictions at all they are minor ones. This meant that I had a lot to learn about addiction in order to save our child!

I did learn a lot and am happy to share some of it here on my blog. What I do know based on my experience of watching my son (who was not raised to be an addict) in the throes of an addiction, and through my research (which has been intense, involved multiple sources, and is ongoing) is that there are many factors that contribute to addiction. Accessibility to drugs, mental health, genetics, and low self-esteem are just some of the risk factors.  A negative family life is also a risk factor for drug use but it doesn’t mean that every addicted person has a bad family. Smoking is a risk factor for cancer but do we assume that every person with cancer was a smoker? Of course not!

If you read this blog, it is because you have some level of interest in the topic of addiction. If you truly want to help end this epidemic on PEI, I ask that you become an advocate for addicts and their families. You can do this by responding to people who post negative things, speaking up when conversations about addiction are taking place, and by reaching out to a family who is going through this. You could even send them an anonymous letter of support.  These kind, compassionate gestures will help those who are hurting to find the strength to get help. Right now, the negative people have the loudest voices. Please let your positive, supportive voice be even louder. YOU can make a difference.



  1. Rose, you described every feeling I've experienced in the last year with my two addicted children. It has been the hardest year of my life and without a doubt, not being able to freely speak about it made it a million times harder. I am fortunate to have some close friends and a terrific boss who know about my family situation and are very supportive. It is my kids that don't want people to know about their addiction because of the stigma attached to it, even though both are currently under treatment and doing much better. I have tried my best to protect their privacy and still advocate on behalf of addicts on PEI. I have written to my MLA and the premier, met with Doug Currie, and provided information to the various studies that went on in the fall. It made me feel better and I was able to describe exactly what you were talking about - that addicts can come from every type of family. We need to support each other as much as possible in any way that we can. Rose, you are an excellent support in every way... thank you for being the voice that many don't have yet.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. It warms my heart to know that I am supporting others during their difficult journeys. I, like you, am very fortunate to have an understanding boss and coworkers. When I started to reach out to more people, it seemed that everyone had a story. There are so many of us. It is really sad. I am hoping that people will be able to get the help they need much sooner now, before the addiction advances. That they won't have to wait as long as my son did. The key is to treat it quickly and adequately right from the beginning. Take care and I wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a healthy and happy New Year.


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