There are many different stereotypes that are brought to mind when thinking about drug or alcohol addicts. The majority of these stereotypes make negative assumptions about lifestyles that include drugs and alcohol. People who abuse substances are typically deviants and don’t engage in society like the rest of the population. They embody different values to mainstream society: skirting the edges, unemployed, victims of bad upbringings, high school drop outs and prostitutes. They take drugs in dark, dirty alleyways or squats, rob innocent people, go on binges and engage in high risk behaviors.
The reality of substance abusers is that the majority are just like everyone else. They are parents, children, friends, workmates, sisters and brothers. They hold down jobs, have friends, go to social functions and enjoy their weekends. Some fail to manage their addiction and do become entrenched in a lifestyle that the stereotypes embody, but many do not. An addiction does not discriminate between rich and poor, young or old.
One of the most pervasive stereotypes about substance users is the idea of a heroin addict as a junkie. A heroin addicted junkie is a person who chronically abuses heroin and the drug has a serious and negative impact on their lifestyle. They are usually seen as people who may live on the streets, in half way houses or squats, have no employment, steal, rob and engage in prostitution to fund their addiction. These are the drug users that are most visible as they live their life in on the streets and are often overrepresented in jails, detention centers, mental health services and public drug and alcohol services.
Addiction to heroin can result in significant physical and mental health problems, regardless of their living conditions or social status. Risk of disease, infections, sexual dysfunction and psychological issues can affect any user. Heroin has the ability to control and affect all aspects of a person life and make it painful and difficult to stop using the drug. Some users may be clean for some time and then begin using again after exposure to a different opiate such as oxycodone. Women who are pregnant may take heroin during the pregnancy despite the inherent risks to the woman and the child because the drug has such a strong hold on them.
An alcoholic is any person who suffers from alcoholism. Research shows that the majority of alcoholics are not people who have a chronic dependency to alcohol. The homeless man who suffers from mental health issues and uses alcohol chronically only makes up approximately 9 percent of all alcoholics. This means that the remaining 91 percent of people who suffer from alcoholism are men, women, children, parents, workmates and friends who use alcohol in ways that are not necessarily obvious. They may abuse alcohol on weekends in binging, drink a couple of bottles of wine every night, attend functions every week where they can drink alcohol to excess. They are every bit as dependent on using alcohol and from a substance abuse perspective they still need to cut down or stop drinking all together.
Methamphetamine is a highly addictive substance can cause serious health problems and contribute to significant social and relationship problems. The drug is used by people from all backgrounds for the stimulative effects the drug produces. Individuals may begin to take the drug recreationally but tolerance and addiction can occur rapidly with methamphetamine.
The idea of a meth head is a person who has succumbed to the powerful effects of methamphetamine. Long term users can make people become erratic, aggressive, confused, paranoid and violent. The addiction has caused them to compulsively seek the drug in any way possible which includes selling stolen goods and their bodies. But not all users of methamphetamine are like this. Some people manage to function and hold families together, have successful jobs and fund their addiction without engaging in criminal activities while using the drug.
Marijuana is the most widely used illicit substance in the world. Over 12 percent of people aged between 15 and 64 in the United States used the drug in 2010. Many people who use marijuana do not fit the profile of the stoner. A stoner is a person who chronically uses marijuana and is always under the influence. They typically do not have jobs, they have low intelligence and are a dysfunctional member of society. A stoner is usually seen as a younger person or a person who does not fit into their own peer group. They are unkempt, have long hair and listen to certain types of music and wear certain types of clothing.
The majority of marijuana users are not a textbook stoner. They may use the drug for medical purposes, smoke the drug within the confines of their home, have families, jobs, relationships and be significant members of society.
Stereotyping substance abusers can lead to many difficulties in recognizing and treating people. Treatments and services for people who suffer from drug or alcohol addiction should not be used to make generalizations about who, what and why people have an addiction. There are many different factors as to why a person suffers from a substance abuse problem and being able to treat everyone should be the priority.
Some people may find that they make assumptions about people who are in high risk groups for drug use. People from low socio-economic groups, from broken homes, from particular suburbs or towns may find they are discriminated against for the perceived addiction. Additionally, some legitimate health conditions can cause people to exhibit behaviours that are similar to someone who is under the influence of drugs.