More than their pasts

This week, President Donald Trump reached a new low in presidential debates when he attacked Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s about his son – Hunter Biden – rather than his policies and proposals. 

When Trump decided to falsely accuse Joe Biden’s son of a dishonorable discharge from the United States Military for drug use, Biden responded with transparency and honesty.

“My son, like a lot of people… had a drug problem,” Joe Biden said.

“He’s overtaken it. He’s fixed it. He’s worked on it. And I’m proud of him,” he added.

“I’m proud of my son.” 

The last thing Joe Biden should have had to do during Tuesday night’s presidential debate was defend his son, and justify his son’s road to recovery to almost 73 million viewers. 

But in that moment, Joe Biden’s openness about his son’s struggle with his addiction and his recovery showed us the potential for substantial changes to how we as Americans understand this ongoing issue that affects millions of Americans each year. 

At the same time, this moment in the debate highlighted the damaging stigma placed on people struggling with drug addiction.

Trump’s insensitive comments toward Hunter Biden do not represent how the leader of a nation should speak, especially because substance abuse is an issue that affects millions of Americans each year without regard to their age, class, race, or gender.

According to The Washington Post, substance abuse kills approximately 70,000 Americans a year.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) website states, “The stigmatization of people with substance use disorders may be even more problematic in the current COVID-19 crisis.

“In addition to their greater risk through homelessness and drug use itself, the legitimate fear around contagion may mean that bystanders or even first responders will be reluctant to administer naloxone [Narcan] to people who have overdosed,” NIDA’s website claims.

A U.S. President should never publicly call out a recovering addict. Actions such as Trump’s create the false idea that those struggling with drug addiction are bad people in the minds of those who are uneducated about the difficulty of recovery. 

NIDA defines drug addiction as “a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain.”

Those with abuse problems are blamed for their disease, but addiction is a complex disorder. Instead of passing judgement, we need to come together as a society to normalize these discussions. 

There is nothing wrong with talking about addiction. 

Rather than ostracize a recovering addict, we should instead celebrate the achievement that is getting clean. 

Trump’s verbal attacks and mocking is only going to increase society’s rejection of those suffering from addiction.

Stigmatizing those struggling with addiction drowns out any support these victims are offered.

Even those who attempt to seek recovery are often shamed and ridiculed for their past choices.

Instead of putting these victims of addiction in prison, we should be guiding them, and supporting their recovery.

In the eyes of many, those suffering from addiction are no longer seen as people.

Instead, many only see the drugs when they look into the eyes of someone suffering with addiction.                

This problem involves both a society where hate is louder than kindness, and where people are not properly educated about drug addiction and recovery.

Instead of judging our friends and families for their substance abuse, we need to spread awareness and give them a supportive environment that makes recovery possible.

No one should have to struggle alone in their battle with substance abuse, and Trump had no right to make the remarks he did during the debate.

Whether or not we like to admit it, almost all of us know someone who has struggled with addiction at one point or another, just as Hunter Biden has. 

We owe it to our friends, our families, and to each other to contribute to a society that prioritizes people’s lives and ability to fight their demons instead of politicizing the issue of addiction.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use disorders, SAMHSA’s National Helpline is “a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.” The phone number is 1-800-662-HELP (4357).