Explore common addiction stereotypes in our culture, including the 'myth of the lowlife addict' and how these stereotypes shape the perception of addiction.
Negative Image of Drug Users
People who take drugs are usually viewed negatively by the rest of society. This is particularly true of those people who use illegal recreational drugs such as cocaine or heroin. There is a great deal of concern about the damage of drug abuse in society, and the addict is usually viewed as being on the bottom rung in any community. This stereotypical image of the drug user can hide the reality of the situation – such images can be akin to myths. There are plenty of people who use these substances yet do not fit into the lowlife mold. In fact they may even be respected members of the community.
Lowlife Addict Defined
The word lowlife is used to describe those people who are considered to be morally unacceptable by their community. They are people of low social status and can include:
* Drug addicts
* Con artists
* Greedy landlords
* People who exploit the vulnerable in society
* Sexual deviants
A lowlife person is considered to be vulgar, coarse, and undignified. They are sometimes described as the dregs of society.
The portrayal of addicts in the media has led to a stereotypical image of what they look like and how they behave. This means that when the word addict is mentioned most people will imagine somebody who:
* Spend time in back alleyways in the wrong side of town where they interact with the criminal underworld. They need to do this in order to buy their drugs.
* They regularly break the law and will likely be known to law enforcement. They will not be able to support their habit by legal means as their tolerance for the substance increases and they need more of it.
* They will move from job to job and eventually become unemployable. They will steal from their employers and fail to meet their work responsibilities.
* The addict lacks all motivation in life and only cares about staying high.
* They dress in unkempt clothing and pay little attention to personal hygiene. Their attire is often in a hippie style.
* They are estranged from their family.
* They are likely to have stolen things from their family.
* They usually live in abandoned buildings with other drug users.
* Their financial situation is dire.
* The stereotypical drug addict is under forty years of age.
* The usually take their drugs intravenously and their blood vessels will be noticeably destroyed as a result.
* They always speak in a slurred voice and don’t talk much sense.
* They struggle to have any type of romantic relationships, and they usually have a low sex drive.
* People with low self esteem and confidence.
* These are people who get high every day.
* They are unable to take care of their children.
Dangers of Stereotypes
Humans use stereotypes as a means to make sense of the world. They assign people to groups and then attribute certain characteristics to each group – these characteristics can be negative or positive in nature. The dangers of such stereotyping include:
* These stereotypes are usually wrong and lead to misunderstandings.
* Such stereotyping leads to all types of intolerance such as racism, bigotry, and sexism.
* They divide the world into us and them.
* People will use such stereotypes as a means to justify their own appalling behavior.
* The first act of any conflict is to demonize the enemy using stereotypes.
* They lead to hatred, anger, and bitterness.
* It means that individuals are judged negatively by complete strangers.
* People become willing to act violently on the basis of these myths about other people.
* Groups can be disadvantaged on the basis of these lies and half-truths.
Myth of the Lowlife Addict
A study in the UK claims that the portrayal of the addict as a lowlife is a myth. It suggests that many of these people are not only successful in life, but in many respects they could also be described as happy. This survey examined a sample population of 850 people aged between 18 and 24. The survey found that many of their sample admitted taking illegal drugs. Despite this the majority of this group claimed to lead happy lives, with good family relations, with no self esteem issues. It was also reported that the majority of these individuals viewed such drug taking as just a normal part of life.
Danger of the Lowlife Addict Myth
The way that the general public view drug abuse differs greatly from the reality. This is dangerous for a number of reasons because:
* It means that those who do not fit the stereotype will not be identified as having a drug problem. This means that a substance abuser could be destroying their life but still manage to fly under the radar of family and friends.
* The drug addict can justify their behavior because they do not fit into the stereotype. They can kid themselves into believing that so long as they do not act like a typical drug user they will not have any problems.
* Most of the government campaigns to tackle drug abuse are targeted at the stereotypical addict. This means that such campaigns will probably fail to be effective at targeting most drug users.
* People can be afraid to admit that they have a drug problem because they do not wish to be associated with the addict lowlife stereotype.
* The image of drug users as lowlifes is unhelpful and it just gets in the way of solving the problem.
High Functioning Addict
Most drug users do not fit in with the stereotypical image. Even those individuals who develop a physical and psychological addiction may still not act like this image. There are many individuals who are described as high functioning addicts. Those people who have a well maintained addiction may:
* They are not known by law enforcement nor have any type of criminal history.
* They never visit the bad parts of town. Their drug dealer might be a well respected business person.
* They may not take recreational drugs every day.
* They may have a great deal of motivation and be considered successful in their career. In fact drug taking may be part of the culture in their profession.
* The high functioning addict may be well respected in their community.
* They may wear expensive clothes and have good personal hygiene habits.
* These are people who would never even consider stealing from family and friends.
* They have a nice house and plenty of possessions.
* All their drug using friends are equally successful in life.
* They may have a fulfilling sex life.
* They may be much older than forty years of age.
* They would never consider taking drugs intravenously.