There is scientific proof that is no longer disputed in the field of addiction that there are genetic components to this disease. If one has not been affected directly, or have reason to have knowledge of this science, they cannot be expected to understand this. Part of our work is to educate people, help them understand that addiction is NOT a choice.
Yes, the first time a teenager experiments with drugs or alcohol it is a choice. And maybe the second or third, but if a person is pre-disposed to this disease, it does not take long to hijack their brain, with the result being that they are now no longer in control.
Virtually all addicted people started using when they were very young. Long before their brain was even fully developed. In the days of “Just Say No” and “Red Ribbon Weeks”, we are denying the reality of what it is to be a teenager. These public education programs, while well intentioned, are too simplistic. For young people, experimentation is part of separating, becoming an individual, not so closely attached to the parents. The peer pressure is real as well and another part of these years is finding out who they are, being accepted, and fitting in with their peer groups.
Once society understands that no one chooses the life of a “drug addict”, no one enjoys this slow destruction of everything good in their lives, the stigma will lessen and new ways to heal will begin to take their place.
As long as those who are using drugs are seen as “less than”, “low-lifes”, “junkies”, etc. help will be denied. Those of us who have been down this road see, instead, our son, our daughter, our parent, our husband, wife, brother, sister or friend.