Pop star Demi Lovato’s drug overdose has triggered an ongoing debate over whether addiction is a choice or a disease.
Clearly, when someone picks up drugs or alcohol for the first time, they are making a “choice,” but we need to put these situations into context rather than analyze them at face value.
Consider how much pain someone must be feeling to push past their own knowledge of the dangers of drugs and use them anyway. Everyone knows how destructive opioids are. We are constantly reminded from a young age. Anyone who has chosen drugs has calculated that the potential damage of the drug does not outweigh the agony they are already experiencing.
People make the argument that someone like Lovato who has access to psychiatric professionals and has chosen drugs is suffering from a lack of character rather than mental illness. Mental illness is all-encompassing problem. Lovato’s reluctance to get the proper help she needs is a symptom of her health problem rather than a cause. Why would someone who is thinking rationally deliberately put themselves in danger? People who use drugs aren’t thinking rationally, and it’s not always their fault. Lovato has been open about her bipolar diagnosis.
Supporting people with mental health issues has drastically risen in popularity. Everyone talks about the “stigma” towards mental illness, but it’s often those very same people who contribute to the problem. People want to help those with psychiatric issues, but the truth is these illnesses don’t present themselves in a socially acceptable way.
Mental illness manifests itself in its victim in an ugly way. Because there aren’t physical symptoms, people have a hard time separating the disease from the personality. But there is a difference. People with mental health issues often feel that they are replaced by an entirely different person when they experience episodes. Once the episode passes, they might not agree with things they’ve said while under the attack of their own brain. If you reject people once they start to suffer from their disease, there’s no point in advocating against the stigma. You are the stigma.
I think the misunderstanding we have toward people with mental illnesses stems from the normalization of it. You’re not depressed because you had one bad day. You’re not bipolar because your mood changed. And you do not have obsessive-compulsive disorder because you like a clean room. Millennials’ eagerness to participate in a community that they don’t actually belong in detracts from those with real problems.
The choice to use drugs to self-medicate is being made by a brain with compromised critical thinking. People with addictions are victims of their own bodies. Even if you disagree, placing blame won’t help anyone.
Layla Soboh is a UF advertising junior. Her column comes out Tuesday and Thursday.