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Addiction Does Not Discriminate

Addiction Does Not Discriminate

When most people, especially those without personal experience with addiction, are asked to envision an addict or alcoholic, the mental image that springs to mind is extreme. They picture someone who has completely let go of themself, is visibly disheveled, often homeless, and who is incapable of functioning in society completely. The reality is that the average addict or alcoholic is not so easy to spot and looks a lot more like the average person than you might think. This widespread misconception about what addiction looks like has held countless people back from recognizing that they have a problem with drugs or alcohol. The truth is that the disease of addiction does not discriminate. It can affect anyone, from any race or social class, including people who are otherwise functioning well. Recognizing that fact can go a long way toward dismantling the stigma around addiction and make it easier for people to accept that they need help.

Addiction Reaches Across Racial Barriers

Addiction is not prejudiced and does not often abide by racial stereotypes or cultural customs. One study found that out of all Americans over the age of 12, 7.7% of white Americans, 7.1% of Latino Americans, and 6.9% of African-Americans had a substance use disorder. With the data so closely grouped, it is clear that substance use disorders are similarly distributed across racial lines. While rates of use may vary between groups because of cultural factors, the potential for someone to become addicted when using a habit-forming substance is always there. Different racial groups even hold similar preferences for the drugs they use: Marijuana was the top-used substance for all racial groups, with cocaine ranking second. Those who believe they are immune to addiction because of their race are possibly overlooking the evidence that clearly demonstrates that anyone, regardless of skin color, can struggle with addiction.

Addiction Affects People Of All Gender Identities

Stereotypes about men “holding their liquor” better than women go contrary to the reality of the situation, which is that men have somewhat higher rates of alcohol use disorder than women do. But women are catching up, particularly young women: girls aged 12-20 have higher rates of alcohol misuse and binge drinking than boys in the same age group. No gender identity is free from the risk of alcoholism. It is, however, important to consider that alcohol affects men and women differently. People who are assigned female at birth typically metabolize alcohol differently due to differences in their gastric system, meaning that they become intoxicated more quickly. Women with alcohol use disorder also face higher death rates than men from heart disease, liver disease, and suicide. Female-identifying heavy drinkers also face increased risk of having unprotected sex or becoming a victim of violence and sexual assault.

Addiction Extends Across Socioeconomic Lines

The stereotype of the destitute and disheveled drug addict is incorrect on many levels. Wealthy people are just as capable of developing substance dependencies as the poor. In fact, one study found that the higher an individual’s income, the more alcohol they consumed. People who struggle with addiction can be very successful in other areas of their lives as well. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, after several scandals involving his drinking and use of crack cocaine, stated that “if [he was] an addict, [he] could not show up to work every single day.” But Ford was just one of many functioning addicts who are able to continue performing at work while consuming problematic quantities of alcohol or drugs. The idea that every addict is impoverished and completely unemployable is another way that addiction supposedly “discriminates,” yet experts note that many addicts remain employed and solvent even through their worst periods. Keeping a job helps the addict stay supplied with their drug of choice, but it also allows them to feel as though they are still “keeping it together.” In fact, rates of drug addiction are climbing among the most prestigious professions, especially in the field of medicine. Doctors and nurses have some of the highest rates of addiction of any profession, as do lawyers. The pressure these professionals are under pushes them towards substance abuse, while the prestige of their profession prevents them and those around them from recognizing the true depths of the issue.

The “Normal Drinker” and the Alcoholic

The belief that one can easily recognize an addict or an alcoholic is due in part to the way our society portrays addiction in media. Stereotypes like that of the delirious, disheveled addict serve a social function: they denote that addicts and alcoholics are part of an out-group, and affirm the worth and superiority of the in-group: “normal people” who don’t get involved with such things, or are able to moderate if they do. Even if the normal drinker is consuming several drinks a day and is unable to stop drinking, he is able to justify his continued consumption by comparing himself to the stereotype of an alcoholic and feeling superior. This is one reason that many people in the AA community believe it is necessary to “hit bottom” before one can begin to recover; there is an endless stream of social messaging encouraging people to keep drinking, telling them they are OK as long as there is someone who is visibly worse off. The temptation of remaining in the “in group” of people who can drink normally is recognized in the Big Book of AA as one of the most difficult obstacles to sobriety. Understanding that addiction doesn’t discriminate can go a long way toward revealing the truth about one’s own relationship with substances.

Turning Point of Tampa’s goal is to always provide a safe environment and a solid foundation in 12-Step recovery, in tandem with quality individual therapy and groups. We have been offering Licensed Residential Treatment for Addiction, Eating Disorders and Dual Diagnosis in Tampa since 1987. If you need help or know someone who does, please contact our admissions department at 813-733-5931866-782-1417 or admissions@tpoftampa.com.

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