The stigma of addiction comes up frequently in our society. The nature of addiction as a disease has not been fully understood by many people, causing them to make unfair assumptions about those afflicted. Those assumptions often make their way into the public arena and are used to malign someone’s character in a court case or disparage them on television. In just the last few months though, we have seen quite a few cases of high-profile people with addiction struggles being treated with overwhelming sympathy by their fanbase and the media.
In the Media
We have previously covered both Demi Lovato’s 2018 overdose and John’s Mulaney’s relapse in late 2020. In both instances, they were met with a huge outpouring of support from their many fans, other celebrities, and journalists. Articles about John Mulaney’s admission to rehab were incredibly sympathetic and focused on quotes from family and friends expressing their concern for John and explaining the stressors that may have led to his relapse.
Demi Lovato aired a four-part documentary on YouTube that goes into explicit detail about her slide back into alcohol and drug misuse, her near-fatal overdose, and difficult recovery. Some of her decisions about her recovery plan are questionable and potentially risky, yet the articles covering Demi and the documentary remain rooted in a place of empathy. Everyone has to find their own path to sobriety and, for what seems like the first time in popular culture, most people seem to truly understand the difficulties involved.
In the Courtroom
This empathy extends beyond celebrity news, making its way into our legal proceedings. When prosecuting someone, lawyers won’t hesitate to use every detail that they can to paint the picture they want jurors to see. If the person on trial has or had a struggle with substance misuse, it is not uncommon for that fact to be weaponized against them. The prosecutor will point to their addiction to explain why the defendant is untrustworthy, or as the root cause of any illness or injury – as has been demonstrated in the George Floyd case.
Prosecutors use this tactic because it has a track record of success. Many people have an unconscious bias against addiction which can heavily influence their character judgements. Surprisingly, however, the attempts to weaponize Floyd’s addiction have been met with backlash and calls from many corners to stop disparaging addiction in this way in the courtroom, in politics, and everywhere else.
Parallels are being drawn between Floyd, Hunter Biden, and even the rapper DMX. Biden’s recently published memoir reveals a moving story about years of struggle and familial support. DMX, who struggled with addiction for most of his life, recently passed away, inspiring people to reflect on his contributions to music and on the many other artists who have also been lost to this treatable disease.
What has Changed?
We can’t point to one story as the impetus behind this cultural shift. Sadly, there have been many more such cases over many years – which may itself point to why perceptions seem to be changing over time. People are gradually understanding that addiction transcends all boundaries – comedians, musicians, politicians, and regular people that we see every day.
Those of us in the addiction treatment community have been advocating for more education and awareness about addiction for years. As heartbreaking as many of these high-profile cases can be, we are heartened to see greater understanding and empathy being expressed for those suffering from substance use disorders. To us this shows that we are all moving forward in the right direction.
If you or a loved one is struggling with binge drinking or alcoholism, call the New England Recovery Center today at 1-877-MyRehab and speak to our professionals about your recovery.