When escapism is the end goal for all, how is it that certain drug users are enabled while others are marginalized by society? The use of language is one explanation, as misconceptions surrounding substance use disorders stigmatize addicts and ignore the accessible path that led them astray.
Not only is language harmful when it vilifies people with disorders, it can also encourage the misperception that certain drugs are “fun” and “harmless.”
In reality, the criminalization of recreational drugs makes it impossible to know exactly what drug users — whether in settings such as music festivals and parties or on the street — are consuming, and at what dosage. Overdoses are a toxicological problem, but addiction is a psychological problem that is easier to fall victim to than many believe.
Experimentation of Drugs at Music Festivals
As summer comes to a close, it’s noticeable through media coverage of music festivals that experimentation with binge drinking and recreational drug use is still rampant, despite the obvious dangers. Deaths at festivals in the U.S. and Canada have been increasing steadily since 1999.
A 2016 study suggests that alcohol and drug use were factors in 13% of deaths at musical festivals, which is 722 people globally, between 1999-2014. Public reports of the actual number of deaths related to music festival attendance is limited, and reports of non-fatal overdoses are scarce.
There’s no way to determine how many addictions stem from a young person experimenting with drugs they thought they understood with people they thought they could trust.
Regardless of whether a person is experimenting with drugs for the first time or repeatedly taking a substance they’ve become addicted to, they are bonded by the fact that neither party considers the long-term consequences of their desired trip — both are only concerned for their next high.
The Difference Between Addicts and Non-Addicts
Non-addicts are generally in a setting designed purely for communal fun – the programming of club nights or festivals encourages all night partying, which the body is not designed for. This leads to people mixing drugs while chasing a high, avoiding exhaustion, and keeping up with their peers.
For addicts on the other hand, their brain has been chemically affected to the point where doing a drug feels like a survival mechanism, not a choice. The illegal nature of drugs makes their production inconsistent and creates uncertainty of their true chemical makeup.
Rarely can one know exactly what they are consuming, or whether the dosage is consistent between different dealers and products. With chemicals like bath salts and Fentanyl being commonly used to lace drugs, this creates a slippery slope where a person’s free will could lead to their immediate death.
This misrepresentation of drugs allows for some to believe that experimentation with certain substances are harmless, which is simply not the case. Psychedelics are commonly associated with enlightening their users — a vessel for spiritual awakening or feelings of peace, love, freedom, and rebellion.
The common belief is that these are taken by people with free will, while “hard” drugs are taken by people in desperation.
Society’s Perception of Drug Use
All drug use disrupts and alters the communication between nerve cells in the brain, regardless of what substance is consumed. The false distinctions we draw between different types of drug use are often harshly reinforced by existing divisions in our society, all of which erase the reality that every addict is a human being.
Addiction is both a physical and psychological state, not simply a series of bad choices, and categorizing those suffering as “lesser than” only perpetuates the idea that their situation is extreme and easily avoided.
When addicts are discussed they are often “othered” by the media and pop culture, classifying them as fundamentally flawed individuals and allowing the general public to ignore or marginalize their very real needs and experiences.
Labels like “junkie,” “bum,” “crackhead,” or “tweaker” isolate the very people who need community and compassion. Calling a person with substance use disorder an “abuser” only contributes to the hidden dangers that perpetuate long term addiction.
When people are told that they matter and they feel that they’re cared about, they’re more likely to seek the help they need for themselves. Sometimes it’s helpful to understand the importance of family during recovery from addiction and the role they can play.
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