Addiction is a funny thing.
Not that it’s something to laugh at – unless you’re on something – then it might make you a little giggly. In all seriousness, I say it’s a funny thing because the general public’s feeling toward addiction teeters somewhere between sympathy and disdain.
I saw this in action during the past month with a couple of rather prominent public figures. Josh Hamilton, star outfielder for the Texas Rangers, relapsed with alcohol. Hamilton, who made his story with addiction public, came out and explained what happened and apologized. That didn’t stop sports writers from running headlines that read, “The Rangers can’t trust Hamilton.”
More disheartening was the passing of Whitney Houston. Houston, who had been struggling with substance abuse, was found dead in a bathtub with a host of prescription drugs nearby. Political commentator Bill O’Reilly said that Houston “wanted to kill herself.” Thanks for the insight, O’Reilly.
As someone who is close to a person struggling with addiction, I can’t consider myself special. The conversations I’ve had on the subject have completely convinced me that there is not a single person who isn’t either struggling themselves or knows somebody who is. I’ve seen it tear apart families, destroy relationships and ruin lives. It happens everyday to almost everyone.
For students, addiction is an especially tricky subject to dance around. The norm of drinking and recreational drug use makes substance abuse a badge of honor. Now don’t think for a second that I’m riding my moral high horse above college parties – I’m not a saint. But there’s a difference between someone who likes a crazy weekend and someone who has a serious issue, and college behavior makes that a hard thing to distinguish.
There are, however, important lessons from these two incidents that can make it easier for students to deal with or someone they know struggling with addiction.
Although Hamilton and Houston’s cases are similar in nature, they represent the two very distinct paths that an addict can take. Hamilton’s, for instance, is the one of openness and recovery. For someone to say that the Rangers can’t trust Hamilton because of his relapse is completely backwards. The way he’s dealt with the issue since it became public is remarkable. His ability to admit his problem, stay sober and properly address his relapses should be a blueprint for any recovering alcoholic.
Alcoholics can relapse. Anyone who expects a clean slate from day one of sobriety will be sadly disappointed – it’s just the nature of the disease. The fact that Hamilton is able to not only reflect and get stronger, but do so on the public stage with complete confidence is staggering. It’s important to know that if you are an addict you’re always an addict, so chances are you’re going to screw up from time to time. It’s the ability to take responsibility for mistakes and move on that allows one to get better.
On the darker side of the spectrum, Houston showed us what happens when you hole yourself up in a problem. Her substance abuse was well documented in tabloids and news outlets, but unlike Hamilton the coverage created a wall that separated her from reality. She didn’t “want to kill herself.” Addicts aren’t themselves when they’re so heavily medicated. She most likely wanted to get better, but didn’t know how to without taking something.
The most important difference between the two is that Hamilton sought help. If there is one thing anyone can take away from these two stories, it’s that being open and seeking guidance is the start to recovery. Don’t be scared off by the demonization bums like O’Reilly throw around to pad their egos. College students may sometimes feel like they don’t have time to address these issues, let alone admit that they have one. Yet doing so can be the first step to avoiding a fate like Houston’s.
Daniel Craig can be reach at email@example.com.