Will Preventing Violence Lower Addiction Rates?
It is a sad reality that when a person has been hurt, they are more likely to be hurt again. We understand this idea with physical health when old injuries plague athletes but we seldom extend our understanding to emotional wounds. Phrased differently we could say that once a person has felt pain, they are more likely to feel that pain again. Today as we consider the many causes and consequences of violence during the 16 days of activism, we’re going to include addiction and substance use in the conversation.
In the book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, renowned Canadian doctor Gabor Mate writes that “[i]t is impossible to understand addiction without asking what relief the addict finds, or hopes to find, in the drug or the addictive behaviour.” Mate’s work suggests that pain is at the root of all addiction and that substance use is a sort of relief. In the cases of many people living with addiction, their pain is rooted in past abuse and experiences of violence.
Those ideas make sense to Matthew McCoy. He is the founder of the Addict’s Attic Outreach Services which supports people struggling with mental health and addiction issues in Grey Bruce. According to McCoy, “drug use comes to be a common ground between a lot of abuse victims, whether it’s a full blown heroin addiction or just experimenting with substances and looking for that release”.
Although many people begin using drugs looking for relief, addiction can become the sources of additional pain. Our communities have become familiar with the personal, emotional, financial, and medical consequences of addiction through the current opioid crisis and long standing issues of alcoholism and methamphetamine use. Considerable resources and energy continue to be put towards ending drug use and trafficking but the experiences of doctors like Mate and advocates like McCoy suggest that attacking drug users through a ‘war on drugs’ approach is not the answer. Instead people who are suffering in addiction or as a result of violence and trauma need more care and support. To proactively prevent addiction we need to address its root causes.
If we want to address addiction issues in Grey Bruce we need to end the stereotyping and judgmental dismissal of drug users. We also need to prevent the violence and trauma that inspires more people to turn to drug use in the first place.
According to McCoy one of the first steps we can make as a community is to make it okay for people to talk about trauma and pain. “It’s okay to talk about trauma, abuse, and violence; we need to raise awareness about speaking out so they have a release and support before addiction”, he said. McCoy went on to say that the Addict’s Attic sometimes works with a person for months before they are comfortable talking about the trauma or abuse they experienced. “If we can’t heal the hurt we can’t address the self-medication”, McCoy added.
Addressing addiction by preventing violence is a long term plan. In the medium term we can break down stigma and show more compassion in our conversations about and policies addressing drug use. In the short term there are organizations across Grey and Bruce working to support individuals living in addiction and their families. The Addict’s Attic is one support. The Canadian Mental Health Association is another. They can refer to counselors specializing in addiction and offer some of the practical supports that people need to build a stable foundation where healing can happen. Visit http://www.cmhagb.org/find-help/ for more information. You can also find resources through https://211ontario.ca/.