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Addiction is a dangerous word. It carries around with it a stigma. It frightens people – it conjures up images of criminality, and people living in the shadows of normal society.

Addiction scares people because no one dares want to believe it could ever happen to them. Addiction is something that happens to other people, not to me, not to anyone that I associate with. Addiction is somebody else’s problem. The word ‘Addiction’ has become a means to distance the problem from the reality.

The reality is: MOST PEOPLE ARE ADDICTS! – For some, the addiction can be drugs or alcohol. For others, it can be work, shopping, pornography, gambling, thrill-seeking, hoarding, exercise, chocolate… you name it, there are probably a surprising amount of people on this planet that are addicted to it. But casually mention to a friend in conversation that you are an addicted to drugs or alcohol and watch as their entire demeanor changes. It doesn’t matter if that friend suffers from OCD and habitually washes and sanitizes his hands every five minutes, refuses to shake other’s hands for fear of germs, and dreads the notion of touching a doorknob… try to evoke the same empathy from that person to understand your compulsion to drink or use drugs, and more often than not you’ll be met with that disapproving stare that many of us are all too intimate with.

Society and public policy has taught us all that drug addicts and alcoholics are all to blame for their addictions. It has put the onus of sobriety directly on the shoulders of those most disadvantaged by their conditions. And while there is truth to the notion that we are all ultimately responsible for our actions, it is naïve to simply place the blame of addiction at the feet of the addicted and expect them to clean up their own mess, without us recognizing that no one willfully chooses addiction.

Addiction, of any sort, can befall even the strongest and smartest of us all. At what point does something we do become who we are? Why don’t people view addiction as something that must be treated rather than punished? What are we doing ourselves to get the treatment we need? And if nothing, why not? But most importantly, why aren’t we asking these questions publicly?

Addiction shouldn’t be met with shame; it should be met with compassion. For every person we leave in the shadows, we lose that person’s potential to give back to society. For every person we write-off and dismiss from our lives for being an addict, we write-off and dismiss a part of ourselves. For every person we reclaim from addiction’s grasp, we claim a victory for society. It is not enough to ignore the problem anymore; it is something we must address. We must not fear addiction, but rather, we must come together as a society to defeat it.

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