I know how terrible the disease of addiction can be.
Three years ago, my son Brian -- 15 months clean but unable to handle the shame and stigma of his disease -- took his own life. He was just 25 years old. He had struggled with addiction for nearly a decade and tried time and again to get clean and stay healthy. But addiction is a dark and lonely road for those who walk it.
Brian's death shattered my family, and tragically we are not alone. Our story is shared by hundreds of thousands of other parents across the country. Every day, about 22 million Americans struggle with addiction, and it's only getting worse. Fatal overdose rates have skyrocketed across the country in recent years.
That's why I founded Shatterproof. Yet despite the thousands of loved ones we lose to addiction every year, our society continues to turn a blind eye to this disease. Too many people continue to dismiss it as a moral failure, a sign of weak character. It's time to say ENOUGH.
Just this summer, we saw a national retailer handing out pens shaped like hypodermic needles to promote a salon named Hairroin. Before that, an upmarket department store chain released a sports jersey that replaced the player's name with "Vicodin." Turn on your TV and it won't be long until you spot the obvious junkie character. And it's all banking on the same lesson that "addicts" are nothing more than their condition -- they're not like us, and we can laugh at that. It's a narrative that's repeated everywhere -- in advertising, movies, fashion, news, music, magazines. It's outrageous, it's dehumanizing, and it's dangerous.
My son Brian wasn't simple, and neither was his addiction. It never is. I watched my son struggle for nearly a decade, from the long nights of pain to the constant fear of relapse. I experienced firsthand the bewildering challenges that families face every day as they try to help their loved ones get well in a society that is taught to turn its back.
It shouldn't be this way. Addiction is a disease, and there's plenty of research to prove it. We know that it's a chronic and relapsing brain disease; it's part of a complex cycle of pain and isolation. Drug overdose kills about 100 people in the United States each day, and there's nothing entertaining or simple about the way it shatters a person's life, their family, their relationships, their passions, loves, and well-being.
For every publicity stunt or T-shirt that makes light of this suffering, we take another step backward as a society. Our children learn that those who are trapped in addiction are merely caricatures of failure, not victims of a disease that deserve our compassion. Every pandering cliche reinforces a culture of silence that keeps those in need from asking for help. It's not just naive to assume these attitudes don't bear a cost in lives -- it's ignorant, and it distracts us from real solutions.
Instead of cracking jokes or vilifying, we should be offering help, guidance, and rehabilitation to the approximately 22 million Americans who struggle with addiction every day. Our families should know exactly how they can prevent addiction and find treatment in their communities, but instead we continue to pour money into failed, outdated "War on Drugs" policies that seek to punish instead of treat. Only when we unite as a country around the realities of the problem, persuading people one by one, will we be able to overcome the brutal stigma that holds us back.
There is no "us" and "them" when it comes to addiction. This epidemic impacts millions of Americans, and it strikes without discrimination or mercy. Allowing addiction to be reduced to a simple story of moral failure is to close the door on our friends, neighbors, family, and communities. If we want to end the stigma, we need to call out cheap stereotypes when we see them, and take action -- it's up to us to tell the whole story.
Together, we are stronger than addiction.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.