There has been a lot of media coverage lately around the tragic deaths of Long Island mom Diane Schuler, pop star Michael Jackson and pitchman Billy Mays. All of the stories include allegations of alcohol and / or drug abuse or misuse. All include real people whose lives were taken too soon. And all of the stories leave mourning families with a whole lot of questions. So, what can we take away from these tragic stories?
1. Addicted women need to be able to come out of hiding to get the treatment they need without the fear that society will reject them. 92% of women do not receive needed treatment for alcohol and drug problems. The intense shame and guilt that women experience, especially mothers, when they are abusing drugs or alcohol keeps women from seeking treatment for their problem. Even in the most modern families, women are most often the caretakers of the family. Who will take over the role when mom has to take a break to seek the help she needs? When faced with the choice of seeking help for their problem or taking care of their kids and family, they’ll almost always choose the kids. Studies have shown that children typically learn of their father’s alcoholism when they are about 12.6 years of age, while they don’t learn of their mother’s alcoholism until 18.3. Schuler was allegedly under the influence of alcohol and marijuana when she drove the wrong way down the Taconic State Parkway in New York when she hit a car head on, killing 8 people, including herself, her 2-year old daughter and 3 young nieces. Her family says they never saw her drunk.
2. We need to pay attention to the rise in prescription drug abuse in America. Prescription drugs, or the mixture of prescription drugs with other drugs or alcohol, may have contributed to both Jackson and Mays’ deaths. Federal data shows nearly 7 million Americans abused prescription drugs in 2007, up 80% since 2000. According to the Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS), nearly one in five (an estimated 4.7 million) teens have ever abused prescription drugs. Prescription drugs were second only to marijuana for those 7th – 12th graders reporting to ever trying drugs in 2008. Most teens get their prescription drugs straight from their family’s medicine cabinet and think it is safe because it comes from a doctor. Doctor shopping, and even dentist shopping, has become popular.
3. We need to talk to each other about our experiences with addiction, whether it is through our own past abuses or through dealing with a friend of family member’s addiction. When someone is diagnosed with asthma or diabetes, they consult doctors and specialists, learn about their disease and treatments, maybe even make some lifestyle changes. Chances are, the person hears other people’s stories about their bouts with the same disease and how they handled it. They talk about it, and they deal with it. Think about it. Most people could probably name a cancer center near them, but how many could name a substance abuse treatment center in the same area? How many Mainers know about Crossroads for Women? While treatment and support options for drug and alcohol are lacking in many communities, they do exist. You don’t read about addiction research as much as you do about asthma or diabetes or cancer. Even those that conquer addiction and find recovery often don’t talk about their past for fear that they will be unfairly judged.
Addiction is a disease that needs to be addressed and treated. It is a disease that can tear apart families and ruin lives, yet it’s still something we are too ashamed to talk about. What would happen if we did?