Addicts as Social Victims

I could write about world peace and the humanitarian crisis that goes on in numerous countries every day. I could pen down my thoughts about the pandemic, or how the worldwide economy is doomed. But I wouldn’t. Because some crises may not grab media attention, might not make a sound, might not even seem relevant to other people – but the harsh truth is, it still exists. It exists within each one of us.

It is a fact that people cope up with trauma in various different ways. Unfortunately, some people become addicts of one substance or another. Society views such people as deviants, filthy and even as lowlifes. What I believe is such people are not deviants, they are victims to a whirlwind of traps that the society lays down itself. People who don’t follow social norms are often vilified and neglected. Society sees drug addiction as an evil, but in my opinion, it is a product of societal expectations and deep-rooted structural crisis.

Today, I am going to write about a song which voices what goes inside the head of a drug addict. “Not an Addict” is a single which was written and performed by a Belgian band called “K’s Choice” released in the year 1995. The band was formed by siblings Sarah Bettens and Gert Bettens in 1990s and produced gold and platinum albums.

The band was formed by siblings Sarah Bettens and Gert Bettens in 1990s and produced gold and platinum albums.
The band was formed by siblings Sarah Bettens and Gert Bettens in 1990s and produced gold and platinum albums.

If one reads the lyrics for the first time, you could think that drug addicts live in their own world and are never sober. They reach a point where they get aloof of social norms and what people might think of them.
“The deeper you stick it in your vein
The deeper the thoughts, there’s no more pain
I’m in heaven, I’m a god
I’m everywhere, I feel so hot”

However, if you pay closer attention to lyrics, you could see that such people are in denial, drug use is simply a tool to escape reality. The singer sings “there’s no more pain”. The pain that roots from trauma that we are not aware of. It is important to note that nobody one day wakes up and decides to do drugs, they are pushed into that death trap by some circumstance of life. “It’s not a habit, it’s cool, I feel alive”. Most drug addicts take drugs to reach a state of mind that helps them escape reality. This line is repeated several times in the song, indicating an assurance that they are trying to give themselves on how this is normal. Stereotypes about certain groups in society form a self-fulfilling prophecy where individuals of that groups are forced to admit an alternative realty and accept that to be true.

Symbolism and subtle hints are a big part of the music video. A strong symbol would’ve provided a powerful and sturdy end to this intense song, nonetheless other symbols make up for it. The video starts out with the singer vocalizing – “Breathe it in and breathe it out. And pass it on…”, simultaneously showing an old woman wearing a nasal cannula with obvious breathing problems. Later in the song, when the line “It’s not a habit, it’s cool” repeats itself, a poster in the bus shows us which reads “Out of Work?”. These symbolic hints speak of greater problems such as how the societal pressure can be too much, suffocating some of their opinions and identities even though everything might look normal on the surface. Drug addicts are mostly unemployed, and nobody wants to employ a drug addict. Hence, they are “out of work”. It is a vicious cycle as poverty or lower socio-economic status must have led to low rates of education, which in turn leads one into petty crimes and groups which might have a negative influence, leading to unemployment, and hence drug use which repeats the whole cycle.

Any regular person with a sound mind would not ruin their lives in such a way. And thus, it becomes exceedingly important to understand the root cause of this addiction, and what helps maintain it. Addiction is considered a disease by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NDIA). We need to change our perspective from viewing addicts as dangerous and deviant members of the society to people who have fallen prey to the harsh realities of life. Kindness rather than hatred is what’s needed in an addict’s life.  In the scholarly article “Social Identities as Pathways into and out of Addiction”, authors Genevieve A. Dingle, Tegan Cruwys, and Daniel Frings talk about how social influence can drive one into this pit. “Social factors are involved at every stage of the development of and recovery from a substance use disorder (SUD). For example, the onset of problematic substance use may be associated with social isolation (Chou et al., 2011) or with peer pressure and normative influences on behavior (Bauman and Ennett, 1996; Ary et al., 1999)”. Social isolation is again caused by prejudices held by a society that reflects in behavior and labels that are given to drug addicts. A label is not that easy to wash away.

Numerous songs have been written on addiction, “Save Me” by Shinedown, “Under the Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers, and “The A Team” by Ed Sheeran, among others, all of which are a cry of help. Society may despise aberrant acts and such songs are not exactly what you would want your children to listen to. From a psychological point of view, addicts are patients just as much as a person who suffers a cardiac arrest.

In conclusion, I would like to say that drug addiction is not a problem, it is a consequence of the problem – which is societal norms, scapegoating and prejudice. Addicts are not deviants; they are the ones who bear the brunt of the harsh realities of a chaotic world. Songs such as “Not an Addict” make us shake up and realize that people are fighting grave internal battles, succumbed to societal pressures, living in a world that no longer accepts them, a society that is not a help but a circus, a mind that is unlivable and destructive.

Imagine living a life where rainbows do not matter, flower blooming do not bring happiness, there are no beach days just harsh winter storms, and yet surviving through it all, when you reach the other side of the ocean, there is no hand to pull you out. Addiction is an illness; kindness is medication.

© 2020 Anusha Gupta and The Poetic Trance

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