‘But I’m not a saint yet. I’m an alcoholic. I’m a drug addict. I’m homosexual. I’m a genius.’-Truman Capote
It seems apt to quote Capote, a character with whom Philip Seymour Hoffman became synonymous playing, in his Academy Award winning performance. Yet, it is sad to note the similarities. Awful, in fact. Both, were, as Capote points out, certainly bordering on the genius category, but prone to bouts of drug addiction. It’s truly a terrifying comparison, one that demonstrates the archaic temptations to those who perhaps feel restricted by the world that they live in.
Addiction itself is the subject of many a fervent debate. The effervescent arguments between Peter Hitchens and Russell Brand are constantly undermined by their overly raucous ferocity, but there is a wealth of information to consider there. With the unfortunate death of Philip Seymour Hoffman to heroin abuse, the spark has been drastically ignited once more. The contrariant argument that derives from such an openly celebratory death are easily founded: apathy due to the method of eventual demise. However, this apathetic direction doesn’t serve anyone’s best interest. It’s vital to delve beneath the occasional vitriolic discussion to further understand ourselves the reasons why the mechanism of such a vile illness continues to click round, cog over cog, for a lifetime.
First and foremost, to take the simplest of arguments, derail it and provide simplicity, feeling sorry for a man for dying from drugs is not an inherent misfocus. It is a natural human instinct. Furthermore, to dictate to others that anyone who takes drugs is not deserving of a sympathetic moment or two because there are thousands of other quotidian folk suffering similar fates doesn’t represent the point. Seymour Hoffman is not being lorded above others, but is naturally highlighted because of his status. He constitutes all others suffering a similar fate. In that respect, to take the aforementioned argument is to diminish the entirety of drug addicts. There is no distinction when it comes to the nightmare scenario of addiction. Everyone is the same. Believe nothing else.
Beginning to seep ourselves in the very existence of addiction however, we should all realise that there are ever-present neurological workings involved. Seymour Hoffman, Capote or ‘Jim’ from across the street, experience physiological changes that develop their immediate, logical responses into invalid misinterpretation. The only argument that attempts to dissuade us from this reality is that we have an inherent willingness to change. This is only understandable from a certain perspective: that belonging to the initial injection, drag or swallow. After that, the body physically adjusts until the substance becomes part of the normalcy of our functioning as human-beings. There is far too much physiological evidence to suggest that simply telling someone to snap out of it works. The length of time that the drug affects the body is also far too immeasurable to determine whether simply going ‘cold turkey’ will ever work, as opposed to constant vigilance, which is an excruciating process, well described, in fact, by Brand.
Therefore, the only real argument stems from taking something in the first place. It would be incredibly fickle and purposefully divisive of somebody to exclaim that someone should never, ever, ever take a drug. Taking the drug is irrelevant anyway. We all make mistakes. Many of us on multiple occasions. Do we not deserve a second chance in most of these cases? The vast majority would answer in the affirmative, but for people under the influence of hard drugs, there is no second chance. In that respect, they are to be absolutely pitied. They cannot simply take heroin and declare themselves sorry, never taking the substance again. Particularly when someone has a predisposed genetic disposition to addictive substances. It’s unfair and unjust to blame someone for becoming addicted, when we, as a society of finger pointing and blame mentality, have no experience of how deep the addiction can linger.
The answer of course to this highly explosive, ongoing discussion is not, as Hitchens would have you believe, criminalising drug addicts and locking them away. That is just a rather throwaway attempt to force everyone into cold turkey and certainly not proportionate to our current economic state when it comes to overcrowding of prisons. In China, to further demonstrate the intrinsic injudiciousness of Hitchens’ attempt to persuade that criminalisation will decrease addiction, people are/were relatively often arrested, even executed for the consumption/possession of drugs. Their situation has spiralled upwards recently, the number of youths and people under 25 consuming rising by almost 500,000 in the past decade and a half. That’s only taking into account those registered at rehabilitation centres. This is proof that it doesn’t work. This isn’t a case of cultural mismatch, because people will always react the same.
So, realistically, we should ignore such claims that addicts deserve to be locked up. It won’t work. It hasn’t worked. Instead, we need to treat addiction as a disease and stop stigmatising it, much akin to mental illness up until lately. Once we have a distinct outlook on the way drug addicts behave and how their addiction adheres to actual illness, rather than poor lifestyle choices then we can begin to look at a process of helping rather than hindering.
In order to help, several things need to happen. We need to appreciate these people as people firstly. They have an unfortunate disposition to something that will kill them eventually. Once we are all on board, then we can finally begin the collective process of coming up with various devices in which to provide said aid. Nothing resolves itself overnight, but there needs to be an initiative by the government to a series of proposals along the lines of vigilance through support. You can’t just have half-arsed weekly attempts to connect to an addict. That’s a thought belonging to the dark ages. Now we need constant interaction, daily, that seeks to keep people from creeping back into old ways. A one-to-one system of addicts being partners to combat the temptation works, as does providing psychological cooperation. There can be various avenues to take, but they have to all have the same purpose: turning the monster back into the pleasant human they started out as.
Maybe part of the problem is that the process outlined is so immense. It isn’t easy, whereas becoming an addict is. Nevertheless, it is our role as beings of this earth to safeguard our entire race. We shouldn’t want to take the easy road and allow the weak to succumb to their inevitable fates. These are men and women who could potentially be the geniuses of this world. It’s worth providing them with the support if there’s the chance that we unearth the next Philip Seymour Hoffman or Truman Capote.
So, to conclude this free-flowing piece, as you can tell there is much more to addiction than the mere linearity of someone being deserving of their downfall. Philip Seymour Hoffman, whilst an incredibly versatile, affecting acting talent was an equally fragile individual with an illness that served nobody well. Perhaps it’s time to stop arguing and commence the long process of making sure that we continue to thrive as humans, with communal values that derive from making sure that the prevalence that surrounds addiction and death is gradually diminished.
Condolences to all sufferers of addiction.