On April 3rd, urgent news broke out that rapper Earl Simmons, popularly known as ‘DMX’ had suffered another overdose and been subsequently hospitalized.
As a result, social media became plunged into a frenzy. The rapper, both well-known and loved had been very public with his struggles with addiction and the effect it had on his well-being over time. Despite high hopes that he would once again pull through another episode, Earl was unfortunately pronounced dead a few days later. His fans brought to life memories by sharing some personal stories of meeting him, how profound and charismatic his entire being was. A larger-than-life artiste, it was a shocking loss, especially to the hip-hop/rap community.
Before his passing, there had been a barrage of commentary about DMX’s eventual road to addiction and the path that had led him down a life of drug use. A lot of people felt that it was note-worthy to cite that Earl had not abused drugs willingly, he had instead been given a marijuana joint laced with crack (cocaine) at thirteen by a man who he looked up to as his mentor. People said this in response to the rapper’s critiques, which painted him as an irresponsible or stereotypical rapper, the types who enjoy living lavish lives filled with booze, women, and 'hard' drugs. This phenomenon, commonly known as the good or ‘perfect victim’ trope, whereby people are only able to sympathize with another person who they feel has been misled or a person whose choices were out of their hands. We see this phenomenon come to play a lot in recollections of abuse, where people outside the situation might often feel the abused person deserved the treatment they received from their abuser if they exhibited any behavior society at large deems ‘asking for it.’
DMX (read: all addicts) is worthy of all the love, kindness, and support he received before and after his death regardless of the circumstances surrounding his entrance into drug use. Addicts should be cared for, rather than ostracized and made fun of. The popular term, ‘crackhead’ also makes light of addiction and the struggles that so many people face regarding this illness. It is imperative that rather than trying to use Earl as an example of a model drug user, people look instead at how they villainize addicts and make access to the healthcare or help they need even more difficult. Addiction is one of the few illnesses that are set up to seem as if the person suffering has complete control of their decision-making and is choosing instead to rely on a drug rather than simply stop using it. The truth is, the society we live in often gives people fewer choices than a life of addiction and drugs as a means to cope.
With mental health care being completely inaccessible to a host of people, therapists preaching to clients rather than providing them informed care, and the fear of being charted off to unfavorable rehabilitation centers, it is no wonder that a lot of vulnerable people feel helpless and alone with our problems. Capitalism is also a thief of joy and people experiencing poverty often turn to drugs as an escape from their everyday reality. Violence encourages violence, so often people cope with existing in difficult and abusive situations by using drugs to curb or dull the pain of their existence. Of course, not everyone who was plunged into a life of addiction did so because they faced hard times. There are cases where they simply thought that these drugs were fun. They dabbled, unknowingly having addictive personalities. Quickly, they start experiencing severe withdrawals whenever they do not use them.
When discussing addiction, so many people become saints or 'straight edge'. They claim that they have never done any 'illicit drugs, or say they have, but willpower differentiates them from the average addict. The truth is, there are no differences asides from the fact that they do not suffer from an addictive personality. Any person with an addictive personality becomes easily attached to a certain thing, place, or activity. They experience extreme co-dependence and feel that they cannot take on the rest of their everyday life if they are sober. The way that these drugs often have a grip on their users is as a result of the euphoric feeling which is pushed into the nervous system when used. Whatever drug of choice is at play, an addict will use it in the hopes of feeling elevated, feeling free, feeling that they are ready to face whatever life might have to offer them. Sober, they are confronted with the harsh reality of existence.
Their problems, once easily forgotten while on drugs are now at the forefront of their minds. They know that to feel 'light' again, they must use drugs. So, they go back for one more taste; get high, crash, and are inevitably sucked into the cycle once again. The truth is these drugs are designed exactly that way. The point is that the euphoric feeling only lasts so long and at some point, even starts dimming out. After some time, the energetic feeling does not even factor in or pleasure them as much. The act of drug use has now become a familiar friend. They know what to expect and have spent so much time with their senses dulled, so the only option is to keep using.
The opioid epidemic shed awareness on a form of addiction that had been heavily overlooked, which is an addiction to medicated drugs. This medicine was given out to curb pain, but in careless amounts, unknowing of how dependent it often made people. People who had suffered injuries in wars, gotten into car accidents or workplace injuries found solace and respite from those pains in their opioid medication. Unwittingly, they became addicted and sought out the medicine even after their pain subsided. A lot of opioid addicts reported use many months after being initially prescribed. Even though they were not in physical pain anymore, they felt that their bodies needed the medication to simply function.
In a world that is so unkind, it is important to find humanity in people’s actions. Drug addiction is often dangerous as it drives its victims to cause harm to the people around them, which in turn makes their community less likely to advocate for users or be inclined to make space for their pain. Speaking truth to the struggles we as humans often face with depression, anxiety, and other MI's could mean a world of difference in the overall conversation about addiction. There is a deep problem with a society that chooses to ignore mental health issues or pretend that such things do not occur because of an attachment to religious beliefs. When just one person changes the dynamic of the conversation, we see that so many people want to come forward. Pushing our lawmakers to consider holistic methods of wellness rather than a pro-carceral system that only worsens issues is also highly beneficial when discussing addiction as a social issue. Funding for therapy, especially in lower-income communities or in schools where children are in developmental stages raises awareness and tackles problems before they arise as young ones are often more exposed than we believe them to be.