The Face of Addiction…and the Faces of Recovery

by Larry Moliterno

When I ask people what they think the “Face of Addiction” looks like, I typically get the same answers. They tend to think of a down-and-out man or woman living under a bridge, or walking the streets aimlessly looking for their next fix. They may think of someone robbing an older woman in the grocery store parking lot, or a gang of kids smoking in a car.

We think like this because this is the way addiction is typically portrayed. In movies and on television, we see those struggling with drugs and alcohol as either poor and willing to do anything to get their hands on drugs — or else as really wealthy and scheming around their use.

But what addiction really is…is a disease that affects everyone. Two-thirds of American families are touched by addiction. Addiction affects the parents cheering next to you at your son’s soccer game, the young girl working diligently to get into a good college, the army veteran looking for a steady job, and the mom dropping her young kids off at pre-school.

Addiction is everywhere and does not discriminate. Chief Development Officer for Subway Don Ferryman; Actress Jamie Lee Curtis; Actor Robert Downey Jr.; Chief of Staff at SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) Tom Coderre; Singers Demi Lovato and Sir Elton John; and Best-Selling Author William Cope Moyers —all have dealt with addiction themselves, and they aren’t the typical “Face of Addiction.”

The examples I gave above aren’t just stories I use — they’re people who have gone through treatment and fight for their recovery every day.

Prescription drug use has been on the rise for the last few decades. We’ve discussed that here before. In the suburbs — where people typically think addiction is not a problem — highly educated and more affluent households are more likely to have access to prescription pain medications, including frequently used drugs such as opioids, and stimulants such as oxycontin and Adderall. These drugs can lead to heroin use.

According to SAMHSA, the number of teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 introduced to heroin has grown by 80 percent since 2002. The vast majority of teenagers who turn to heroin (close to 90 percent) are white and live in the suburbs — a far cry from what is perceived to be the “Face of Addiction.”

This point of this article is to not to suggest that you take your family and friends and go to some remote location where drugs can’t find you. It’s to let you know that addiction isn’t some far-fetched idea that only affects “those people.” We need to recognize that, at any time, anyone can be affected — so we must begin to work towards the goals of treatment for all and prevention for all our kids.

At Meridian, we will continue to treat as many people as we can — no matter what walk of life they come from. But we also address the problem through prevention and stopping addiction before it starts, with initiatives such as the PANDA Leaders Club, Families Who Know and our Community Education programs.

The people who I named earlier are all people who struggled with an addiction. But they are now the Faces of Recovery. They are successful in their careers and have continued to advocate for treatment. This is something that we in the recovery world celebrate!