A recent article in the Star-Ledger focused on a political candidate’s disgraceful campaign tactic of “outing” an opponent’s staff member as a recovering drug addict. This article raises a number of important issues that need further amplification, because of the ignorance and prejudice that it points out in relation to much of the public’s misunderstanding of the disease of addiction and recovery.
Calling attention to an opponent’s staff member’s admitted past drug addiction exploits the worst fears of those who do not understand the disease of addiction. In the process, it does a tremendous disservice not only to the staff member, but to thousands of recovering addicts who face the stigma associated with past drug addiction.
Let’s set the record straight: For the most part, addicts aren’t “bad” people trying to get “good.” The disease of addiction knows no boundaries; it is equally as prevalent in affluent areas as it is in the inner cities. It transcends all racial barriers and occupations – there are doctors, lawyers, farmers, soldiers, factory workers, and retired citizens who struggle with drug dependence on a daily basis. They are proof that addiction doesn’t discriminate. But, thankfully, neither does recovery.
This particular legislative staff member spends many of his free hours working directly with recovering addicts; showing them the way to a clean, sober and useful life. The work that he is doing helps others to see that it is possible to break the chains of addiction, to achieve something in life, and to become a productive, tax-paying citizen. Having been there himself, he is uniquely able to offer a positive vision of a way forward. By achieving and maintaining his sobriety, sharing his story, and contributing to society in a positive way, he is a symbol of courage and a beacon of hope.
Campaign materials and ads such as this play to the worst fears within each of us, and demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding of the disease of addiction. Instead of vilifying those who have faced their inner demons and come out on the other side successfully, we should be celebrating achievements such as this staff member’s!
A better public understanding of the disease of addiction is certainly in order, so that the public can easily see through deceitful campaign tactics such as this.
CEO, Integrity House