While we go on denying the ubiquity of addiction, we marginalize and stigmatize its victims. According to a national survey called The Face of Recovery, one quarter of the people in recovery have been denied a job or a promotion or have had trouble getting insurance; seven in ten reported that they had experienced shame or social embarrassment. In our society, addicts are viewed as having a character deficiency rather than a serious illness. We ignore their condition except to criminalize it and the dangerous behavior it can lead to. In addition, the threat of arrest and prosecution make it less likely that addicts will admit their problem and seek early treatment. So the disease progresses, making it more likely that addicts will become criminals, often dangerous ones.
We fail miserably when it comes to education about drug abuse and addiction. The week-long education sessions provided at school pale—in quality and quantity—in comparison to messages that promote use and abuse. We fail at prevention too because we're inept at diagnosing and treating the psychological and social problems that create fertile ground for addiction. “A presentation on the dangers of drug use will have little impact on the likelihood that a child who is experiencing depression, anxiety, learning disabilities, eating or conduct disorders, low self-esteem, or sexual or physical abuse or neglect, or who has no hope for the future, will self-medicate with drugs and alcohol,” writes Joseph A. Califano Jr., the former U.S. secretary of health, education and welfare, in the book High Society.
Excerpted from Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Meth Addiction by David Sheff, Copyright © 2007 by David Sheff. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.