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On July 24th is was announced that Demi Lovato had been rushed to the hospital after being found unconscious in her home due to a suspected overdose. Lovatics and celebrities expressed their support and best wishes for Demi, who has been vocal about her struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. Unfortunately, the devastating news was also met with a large amount of negativity, stereotyping of drug abuse, and even memes making a joke of the overdose.
Much of the backlash surrounding the overdose stems from a place of ignorance and lack of education. These people view drug abuse as a fun time on the "sesh," addiction as a label for "druggie," or an opportunity to gain a few retweets out of a cheap laugh. This viewpoint is understandable when you look at the stigma attached to addiction. Throughout our upbringing we are taught that drugs are bad. We are taught to cross the street when we approach the stumbling mess of a man on drugs. We are raised to believe that drugs are completely taboo, hidden in the dark alleyways of cities, and that the "druggies" are dangerous monsters who deserve no sympathy. Yet we are never taught why these people—yes people, human beings with feelings—give up everything they have to live a life on the constant search of the forbidden drugs. So rather than writing addicts off by dehumanising them as dangerous animals crawling the streets, lets discuss the hidden layers of addiction and the depths of its control on a person’s life.
The first time.
There are so many routes to drug abuse. As a generalisation, a person has to be introduced to a substance and motivated to try it. Whether this be at a party due to peer pressure, influenced by an addicted family member who intrigues you as to why they choose the drug over their health, or needing something, anything, to take you away from the horror of your reality for whatever reason.
The need for more.
This all depends on a number of factors. The drug, the mind state prior to the first time, the experience of being high, accessibility to more drugs, and the biological influence of the drug. Often drugs can make a person sick the first time, so why do people return to them? The high you experience with any drug, a sense of euphoria, can provide an escape from reality for those whose reality is too painful for them to face. Alongside the biological come down of which causes an even deeper sense of depression in contrast to the high just experienced, a person may feel that they are unable to cope with reality hitting them and long to experience the drug again. This doesn’t have to be a quick transition, often it will happen over time. The desire to experience the escape or euphoria just sitting in the back of the mind, and when a time of pain arises, it resurfaces and allows a person to feel as though the drug may be a suitable way to cope.
Of course, not everyone who has tried drugs develops an addiction. For some, the high may have been enjoyable but with no need to completely escape reality or more secure coping mechanisms in day to day life, they are able to refrain from using again or only using on certain occasions with friends e.g. at a party. They are not dependent on this feeling of escape. However, this does not make one person weaker or stronger than the other. It is only human to seek the end of pain and suffering.
Over a period of time, varying in length due to opportunity, painful reality and drug type, this constant longing and using becomes a dependency. Drugs have a biological effect. Fact. When you take a drug multiple times you brain adapts to the levels of positive chemicals it causes, and so the next time you use, you must take more for your brain to experience the same effect. This is known as an increasing threshold. Subsequently, the increased quantities or strengths of drugs being used, means a much more enhanced effect due to a much higher level of chemical release in the brain, and therefore makes the come down so much worse. Withdrawal. This is a physical force that takes over a person’s body. A sweat so strong it feels like you’re drowning. A sickness so debilitating if feels as though you’ll never be able to move from the toilet floor. At this point you would do anything to end it. Need to do anything. Need to use the drugs again.
A life sober from drugs now seems like worlds away and sounds like no life at all. The addiction is now in the driver’s seat of your brain. You surround yourself with the source of drugs who you know call "friends." You would do anything for them, give them anything, because they help you, right? They provide you with "the good stuff." Without them you would be in so much pain. They saved you and are saving you every day, right? Anyone who shows concerns and tries to prevent you using obviously just don’t want you to happy, right? You cut them out. You don’t need that negativity in your life.
As you surround yourself with more and more drug-enablers and your brain becomes more and more dependent on substances, your sense of normality becomes distorted. What started as an innocent need to escape pain, has now become a very quick downward spiral. You need drugs. Drugs are expensive. It is hard to hold down a job whilst abusing drugs. Your bills come second to paying for the drugs. It is very easy to convince yourself that anything is worth getting the next "high." Selling your house. Leaving your family. Selling your body. Devoting your life to the drug dealer. Committing crimes.
This is why we have the stereotype of addicts that we do—because this is the final picture before a change. Before an overdose ends everything. Or an intervention saves everything.
Demi isn’t the "druggie" you plucked from your stereotypical, small-minded thoughts. Demi isn’t meme aimed at others with similar small-minded thinking. Demi is a human who spends every day struggling to fight the power addiction can have on your life.
Demi expressed signs of depressive thinking from a young age. Her father was an alcoholic, the addiction of which made him neglect his role as a father and instead choose a life of being under the influence over his family. After years of extensive bullying, she found herself dealing with an eating disorder and self-harm as a young adolescence, both of which display an attempt in finding a sense of control over negative attributes of her reality. As a rising star, her celebrity status made access to expensive drugs available despite being so young. She was surrounded by the "Hollywood scene" in which it seemed normal to party and experiment with all kinds of substances. Throughout, she had been suffering with undiagnosed Bipolar disorder, experiencing periods of severe lows as well as periods of severe mania.
She had a curiosity to try drugs and understand why her Dad would choose that life over loving her. She had memories and thought patterns she couldn’t cope with. She had a reality in which she felt she had no control and wanted to escape from. She had ample opportunity surrounding her to source drugs. She didn’t just have no one to stop her, but had the industry encouraging her behind the scenes. She had manic and impulsive periods influencing her decision to try different drugs for the first time. She had the crashing lows creating such a longing to become euphoric again.
Despite the devastating addiction that took control of her life back in 2010, after treatment and continuous support, she ACHIEVED SIX YEARS SOBER. That’s incredible. That’s like never taking a painkiller for a headache. Never reaching for the chocolate on your period. Recovery is a constant battle, and Demi was never afraid to admit this. Alongside her sobriety, she became a huge inspiration for so many and a vocal advocate for mental health awareness.
Demi Lovato advocates for mental health awareness.
See Part 2:
Demi's most recent relapse, what we can learn from it and how we can use it to spread light and positivity.