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Troubled stars need compassion

With such high profile deaths, people are often left wondering why talented people with glowing careers fall victim to drug addiction.

Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman’s tragic death on Feb. 2. reminded the public about the realities of drug addiction, even for the most successful and acclaimed public figures. River Phoenix, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse and, most recently, Cory Monteith, are celebrities who, like Hoffman, succumbed to their addictions.

While society often mourns the loss of such stars, the circumstances of their deaths often and unfortunately spur inappropriate and misinformed responses as well.

A few minutes after Hoffman’s death was reported, Jared Padalecki from “Supernatural” tweeted to his one million followers, “Sad isn’t the word I’d use to describe a 46-year-old man throwing his life away to drugs. ‘Senseless’ is more like it. Stupid.” His tweet immediately created public outrage, including anger from his fans who described his comments as insensitive. Padalecki later deleted the tweet.

Padalecki’s comment is an example of the misconception that still surrounds drug abuse in our society today. It demonstrates the fallacy that drug abuse is a selfish choice and that the abuser has the willpower to stop whenever he or she wants. That, unfortunately is not the case and it is time for our society to understand that drug addiction is not a choice, but a disease.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse website, drugabuse.gov, classifies drug addiction as a mental illness, another disease that is often stigmatized. According to the NIDA, “Addiction changes the brain, disturbing the normal hierarchy of needs and desires.”

If addiction experts classify drug addiction as a disease, why does our society continue to call drug addicts senseless and selfish? In an editorial for “The Guardian,” comedian and recovering drug addict, Russell Brand, said that there is a lack of compassion toward drug addicts because drugs are illegal. They are instead only viewed as criminals.

“We have set our moral compass on this erroneous premise, and we have strayed so far off course that the landscape we now inhabit provides us with no solutions and greatly increases the problem,” Brand wrote.

According NIDA, 40 percent to 60 percent of recovering addicts will relapse.

Although the initial decision to take drugs is probably voluntary, the subsequent addiction is not a choice. “When addiction takes over, a person’s ability to exert self-control can become seriously impaired,” the NIDA says on its website.

It is time to show more compassion and understanding toward recovering addicts, who are left to fight their demons every day for the rest of their lives. We must change the stigmas surrounding addiction if we hope to curb its deadly hold on its victims, famous or not.

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