Shame is poison, and in addiction it is often the difference between life and death. Even the politicians are starting to repeat the obvious adage: we have to reduce the shame and stigma that causes drug-users to hide or minimize their problematic drug use until it's "too late." But the politicians stop there; they don't offer us any way to fix the problem--they don't tell us where the shame comes from, or how to get rid of it.
Every drug user you see on TV, in film, or in journalism is on a journey of self-destruction which is bound to end in "jail, institutions or death." Our cultural shame is an unavoidable consequence of our one-story-only policy about drug use and addiction--our Dominant Cultural Narrative. Every character who uses drugs must follow strict guidelines or risk being rejected by the viewing audience.
The US dominant cultural narrative (movies, TV, books, news stories) always paints drug users as untrustworthy, diseased, and dirty--as dangerous and contagious until they get "clean and sober."
It is a story as old as prohibition: an otherwise "normal" person tries drugs, enjoys them, keeps using, suffers a few minor consequences and then gets into big trouble when they refuse to stop using. If your story doesn't fit this recipe, then it won't be allowed into mainstream culture. If it is a film, it wont make any money. If it is a autobiographical success story, it won't be considered a success. If it's a how-to book, my goodness--you are likely to be sued. You can't tell people to use drugs!
If we really want to get rid of the shame and stigma of addiction, we would do something other than say, "we should get rid of the shame and stigma of addiction." We would start to rid ourselves of this one-story-only policy and replace it with honest, nuanced discussions about drug use. The Public Service Announcement fear-campaigns would be replaced with honest attempts at harm reduction. The DARE officers would be replaced by drug counselors and therapists trained to talk to kids about drugs responsibly and without judgement.
Words like "clean and sober," or talks with our children about the "dangers" of drugs are the root of our problem--they are where the shame comes from, and where it is sustained. Our dominant cultural narrative both reflects and sustains the stereotype of addiction: guaranteed downward spiral into death, jail or recovery. We have to stop ignoring and silencing those stories which don't fit this mold.
All of the audio from this episode is available on YouTube or other public sites.
Heroin "Give me an H-E-R-I-O-N" commercial is HERE
First Lady Melania Trump's appearance at Liberty University HERE
For shame-reduction & harm reduction resources...
Check out DanceSafe's website HERE.
For common sense ideas about drug policy, check out the Families for Sensible Drug Policy.