Addiction doesn’t discriminate. That’s something I’ve come to understand intimately over the past few years. No matter your age, race, gender, socioeconomic status, or background; no one is immune. I have seen that firsthand.
I grew up with a father who was sober. For as long as I’ve known my father, he’s been in recovery from alcoholism. That was something I always knew. It was never a secret, never something we kept hush-hush about. It was as normal to hear him order a non-alcoholic beer as it was to hear him ask for his steak to be cooked rare or for the kitchen to leave tomatoes off his salad. As I got older, I realised that these types of conversations aren’t approached as openly as I was used to growing up.
We’re living in a time when the opioid epidemic is killing people each and every day. That is no exaggeration. In 2021, over 100,000 people died from an opioid overdose. That problem is just getting worse.
While the crisis continues, something else is persisting: the stigma surrounding addiction. It’s a taboo subject. It’s swept under the rug more often than not. And honestly, I get it; I understand why. Addiction is messy, it’s gritty, and it’s dark. It brings out the worst in people, destroys relationships, and it kills. Why would we want to talk about that?
Although it seems so much easier to ignore the problem, this topic isn’t something we can turn a blind eye to. We need to see the problem for what it is. Not only that, but we need to actively work to understand it so we fight it. Until we arm ourselves with knowledge about addiction and all its complexities, we simply will not beat it.
We need to start talking about addiction with honesty and transparency, which is what I’m trying to do through my new book Deviate From Denial: Erasing the Stigma of Addiction and Recovery Through Inspirational Stories.
I have a unique perspective on this topic. I am not in recovery, nor have I ever struggled with addiction. That said, I have watched my father work every day to stay sober, and I have watched him and my mother dedicate their lives to helping others on the same journey.
In 2017, my parents drew on their past experiences and opened DV8 Kitchen, a restaurant and bakery in Lexington, KY. It serves as a second chance employment opportunity, meaning it hires people in recovery from substance use disorder.
I was in high school when they decided to turn this crazy dream into a reality, and since then, I’ve watched their work take root in the community. I’ve seen them change lives through second chances time and time again, and I’ve gotten the chance to meet some pretty incredible people with truly inspiring stories of strength, grit, and determination.
When it comes to fighting the opioid epidemic, I believe it’s on each of us to do what we can to help. In my parents’ case, it was opening a restaurant. They’re businesspeople with years of restaurant experience, which they’re using to hire people who are too often passed over. They realized that these people were so eager to work – and oftentimes beyond qualified – but because of their past mistakes, they weren’t afforded second chances. They watched as the same people who complained about high recidivism rates failed to offer opportunities to people with a criminal background. My parents recognized the pattern, they saw the problem, and they came up with a way they could help.
Now that doesn’t work for everyone. Not everyone owns a business and can employ second-chance workers. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways you can help, though. That’s what I realized in August of last year.
I’m a journalist who loves telling stories. As I got to know the employees at DV8 and as I heard my parents’ reflections and saw their hard work over the years, I recognized just how many stories existed in the little DV8 realm that was not being told. That’s why I decided to use my love for story-telling to convey those messages and share those lessons learned in the form of a book.
Now maybe you’re not a businessperson or a journalist, but I guarantee you have some way to help fight this battle we call the opioid epidemic. Even if it’s something as seemingly small as adjusting the way you view people struggling with addiction, that’s undoubtedly a step in the right direction.
Collectively, we need to stop viewing addiction as a ‘them’ problem – something that affects those addicts – and start seeing it for what it is: a disease that no one is immune to. Until we realise that we all have skin in the game, we won’t be able to win the battle against the growing problem. When I say we all have a stake in this, I don’t mean that every single person will get addicted. I do mean, however, that everyone will feel the effects of addiction at some point. Maybe it is you who finds yourself struggling with addiction. But maybe it’s your friend, your parent, your child, your sibling, your neighbour, your teacher, or your partner.
Until we take a look at the biases we have, the perceptions we hold, and the stereotypes we perpetuate, we won’t be able to find an effective solution…or at least it will take us quite some time to get there. That is why we need to start talking about what’s happening. We need to unpack our thoughts. We need to educate ourselves on what’s happening. We need to try and understand how we got here and how we can move forward. We need to erase the stigma surrounding addiction because until we do that, people will still feel shame for using it. They will still want to hide instead of reaching out for help. And because of that, more and more people will die.
But if we work together, if we learn from one another, and if we talk to each other, I think we can realise that this community of people who are in recovery are incredible. They have stories filled with sorrow and heartache, but also with joy and hope. There is light at the end of the tunnel for everyone. No matter how far gone you might think someone is, there is always hope. There is always a way out. If we learn about resources, if we try and understand people’s struggles and if we erase the stigma surrounding addiction, maybe we can guide people toward that light and away from the darkness.
Sam Perez is a television news reporter who loves telling stories. This passion led her to the University of Georgia, where she graduated with degrees in journalism and Spanish.