Addiction is More Complex Than You Think

Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting, 1996

I’ll never forget the first time I saw Trainspotting. I was intrigued but also horrified. It was gritty, jolting, and viscerally raw. It was also one of the first movies I ever watched that centered around the lives of addicts — and not just any addict — but the heroin addict.

Heroin is probably one of the most deadliest drugs anyone can ever do and movies like Trainspotting don’t skip out on all the messy details. I mean, have you read the book? I have and it’s also not a pretty story, but it isn’t meant to be.

After the recent news of Demi Lovato almost losing her life to a suspected drug overdose (first reports were saying heroin but it may not actually be heroin after all, according to developing stories), it reminded me of the death of one of my uncle’s and an aunt that lost their lives to addiction. One was in fact by a heroin overdose, and the other was supposedly pills.

The real questions we should be asking are, how or why does anyone get to that point in the first place?

Many people on Twitter were quick to shame Demi Lovato, who has been a long-time advocate for mental health awareness and has spoken openly about her addictions and her battles with bulimia and cutting. She was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2011.

But Why Would Anyone Even Use Hard Drugs?

Some people asked questions like, “who‘s stupid enough to even do heroin?” (Once again, we cannot actually confirm yet if it was heroin, and at this point I don’t think she really owes any of us an explanation. She has clearly relapsed and she needs help.) Or there were comments like, “She’s supposed to be a teen role model. Scum.”

Damn, they really had to play the teen role model card.

The real questions we should be asking are, how or why does anyone get to that point in the first place? Whether the drugs they take are heroin or not? What makes addiction so appealing and why does it turn into a vicious cycle so many can’t seem to get out of?

There are so many other factors here people aren’t able to take into consideration, and I suppose that’s a bit understandable, considering most have never struggled with addiction themselves or have never had loved ones that have. Lucky for them.

We are all human and we are all deeply flawed.

I don’t really speak up much or talk about addiction, but I will say that it runs in one side of my family. No, I have not struggled myself and for that I am eternally grateful, but one of my parents did. Luckily, before I could finally become self-aware of the world around me, they finally got help and have been sober for almost thirty years now. Yes, it is possible!!

Weird or Not So Weird Science?

The science behind addiction says that addiction is a disease in the brain caused by chemical changes. It is during these chemical changes where most drugs target the brain’s reward system with dopamine. Does the term sound familiar to you? If so, then you might already know that dopamine is a neurotransmitter that regulates emotions, pleasure, movement, and cognition.

Most people keep coming back to drugs or alcohol abuse because their brain is convincing them they feel better on the inside, thus it becomes just another coping mechanism to get by.

Besides brain changes, some people are also more genetically dispositioned towards addiction. Some people use it as a coping mechanism because maybe they had past emotional traumas, they grew up in poor family conditions or neighborhoods, their parents or siblings were addicts, or like Demi, they suffer from bipolar disorder or depression.

Compassion & Empathy

Young celebrities like Demi are also criticized day in and day out because a ton of pressure gets placed on them to fit some “perfect” fantasy image of the ideal pop star. This is why it’s damaging to condemn people, whether they are famous or not, just because others expect them to act like role models to younger boys or girls.

Mental health and addiction consists of many complex layers. It is not something you take for face value.

We are all human and we are all deeply flawed.

Our society wants to put pop stars on a pedestal so as soon as they fall (Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse), they’re seen as tragic figures, or like they committed some great travesty to their dedicated and loyal fans. Their image is suddenly tainted.

The important thing to consider is that if you aren’t experiencing it, or you don’t have loved ones that have or haven’t seen it first hand, then automatically judging someone for their harmful choices continues to only stigmatize addiction and mental health. And this only makes it harder for addicts to recover.

It’s true that most people may not criticize, but openly speak up or sympathize when celebrities fall, while ignoring or shaming every day addicts instead. Many of these every day addicts will sometimes never ever get the help they so desperately need.

My uncle just became another statistic when he was left on those hospital steps by “friends” that drove off and left him there to die. His story ended in his thirties. I was only a baby and never got to know him. The harder part is that he also left two children behind. Demi Lovato is lucky she had friends by her side that acted quickly and helped save her life.

It is also not an easy subject to discuss, but this is why if you’re on the other side and know a loved who one is suffering, it’s so IMPORTANT for you to listen and not treat them like they are a horrible human being.

Addiction is not pretty, and sometimes it takes years for people to fully recover.

Mental health and addiction consists of many complex layers. It is not something you take for face value. Sometimes, you have to peel back the layers one by one.

Thank you for reading! If you are anyone you know suffers from addiction, I urge you to reach out or get the help you need.



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Nicolette Michelle Herrera

Nicolette Michelle Herrera

I write and take photographs. Just another person on the Internet. Based in Los Angeles.