When a loved one has an addiction, it doesn’t just take a toll on the addict themselves; the entire family is affected. Learning how to communicate with your addicted family member is essential for your entire family’s physical and mental health, now and in the future. Although to understand how to communicate with an addicted family member and how to end an addiction within them, we must first change how we communicate with addicts in general.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA):

  • “Many people don’t understand why or how other people become addicted to drugs. They may mistakenly think that those who use drugs lack moral principles or willpower and that they could stop their drug use simply by choosing to. In reality, drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting usually takes more than good intentions or a strong will. Drugs change the brain in ways that make quitting hard, even for those who want to. Fortunately, researchers know more than ever about how drugs affect the brain and have found treatments that can help people recover from drug addiction and lead productive lives.”

The way we view addicts can help us learn more about the causes of addiction, become smarter on how to prevent addiction within our youth, and better understand the most effective forms of treatment to stop an addiction. The following two stories will explain how drug addicts are commonly viewed by the public, especially because of how they are portrayed in the media.

Story of a Mom Overdosing in a Car

CNN released a story on October 27th, 2016 titled “Mom overdoses in car with baby in backseat” about Erika Hurt, a 25-year-old woman from Hope, Indiana, who overdosed on heroin but lived. Hurt was found passed out in her car, holding a syringe in one hand, with her infant baby in the backseat.

Hurt was transported to Columbus Regional Hospital after the Hope Police Department gave her two doses of Narcan to reverse her overdose. After being released from the hospital, Hurt was sent to Bartholomew County Jail where she was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and child neglect. Hurt’s infant who was in the backseat of the car that day now resides with his grandmother.

Hope Town Marshal Matthew Tallent expressed how terribly wrong this situation could have gone in this CNN article. “Had this woman not passed out from this and attempted to drive right afterward, she could have driven down the road, passed out two minutes later and hit a car with a family in it, and killed every one of them. That’s the thing that’s so shocking to think about. I think it’s a sad situation that this woman has put her child in,” said Tallent.

Anybody who hears this story will most likely automatically judge Hurt for allowing her infant baby to be in this situation. This is a prime example of how drug addicts make other drug addicts look “bad,” and it can change the way we communicate with them and to them. Hurt’s mom, Jami Smith, said that she wishes her daughter’s photograph was not published due to her newfound stereotype being visible to the masses.

The media conveys positive and negative messages to society. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, a negative picture can shine a light on a terrible issue that society is facing today: drug addiction. Photos (like the one featured in this CNN story) make the public view drug addicts as horrible people, taking away from the understanding of individual’s backgrounds, history, and experiences that may have led them down their path in the first place.

Story of a Couple’s Overdose

City officials in East Liverpool, Ohio, posted multiple photos on Facebook showing a man and women slumped over in the front seat of their car due to both of them overdosing on heroin. These pictures were graphic and disturbing, especially when realizing that their toddler was wide awake in the back seat in these photographs. Once again, here is another story that spread across various media outlets that make drug addicts have a negative stereotype.

The officials in East Liverpool said that they wanted to share these photos on Facebook so that the public can get a visual for what is going on. “We are well aware that some may be offended by these images and for that we are truly sorry, but it is time the non-drug-using public sees what we are now dealing with on a daily basis,” commented the officials.

Shaming Addicts Only Makes the Problem Worse

As we can see from the two stories above, photographs are a powerful tool used to convey a message. Although, an article from Healthline explains how “shaming” is not an effective way to stop addiction. Healthline interviewed experts who discouraged the publication of photos showing overdoses because it creates public shaming for the individuals in the stories, and “they say such photographs only increase stigma against drug addiction without doing anything to treat it.”

Since most addicts already feel guilty or shameful about their drug use, Healthline argues that publicizing these disturbing photos of them won’t stop their addiction, it will just make them feel worse about wanting to continue their drug use. “Therefore, shaming or guilt-tripping them aren’t recommended by experts as good routes toward recovery,” stated the article.

The NIDA defines drug addiction as “a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain—they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long-lasting, and can lead to the harmful behaviors seen in people who abuse drugs.” Healthline explained that shaming drug addicts will not do anything to solve the problem because the addicts have reached a point where they can’t help themselves.

Tips for Communicating with Your Addicted Family Member

  • Be firm. — Be sure to hold your ground and don’t let your addicted family member talk you out of helping them.
  • Don’t be an enabler. — Do not take the responsibility for any of your addicted loved ones’ actions. 
  • Understand addiction. — Research and become educated on the subject of addiction so that you are better prepared for what lies ahead with your loved one. 
  • Be kind. — Make sure that you are being understanding, patient, and most of all…kind when speaking to your addicted loved one.

The NIDA says to “emphasize to your loved one that it takes a lot of courage to seek help for a drug problem because there is a lot of hard work ahead. There is a great deal of scientific evidence that treatment works, and people recover every day. Like other chronic diseases, addiction can be managed successfully. Treatment enables people to counteract the powerfully disruptive effects of drugs on the brain and behavior and to regain control of their lives. Like many diseases, it can take several attempts at treatment to find the right approach. But assure your friend or loved one that you will be supportive in his or her courageous effort.”

If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction, call Stop Your Addiction as soon as possible to learn about the different treatment options available for your unique situation. Call Stop Your Addiction at 844-634-7094 to get you or your loved one started on a healthy journey to long-term recovery.