Learning From Cory Monteith: Getting To The Root Of Addiction

Learning From Cory Monteith: Getting To the Root Of Addiction

Until a couple of days ago, I had never heard of Cory Monteith. Sadly, it was his tragic death that brought him to my attention.  I am not a Glee fan, but our daughter? Now that is a completely different story.  So when I asked her who Cory Monteith was, she looked at me as if I was a new arrival on planet Earth, and frankly, sometimes these days I think that I am.

From my limited acquaintance with Monteith and his work, I understand that he was a talented performer and greatly loved by the fans of the program.  It is even more tragic in some ways that someone who seems to "have it all" has to die as a result of addiction.

Of course Monteith was not the only victim of addiction.  In the United States, alcohol is responsible for around 75,000 deaths per annum. There are 40,000 lethal drug overdoses with 17,000 due to illicit drugs.  That is equivalent to losing the entire population of a town like Berkeley, California (population around 115,000) every year.  And, since every addict's life affects at least 4 other people, that equates to a city the size of Albuquerque, New Mexico (population 550,000) being affected every year; one-fifth dead, the rest grieving.

We have all seen the sci-fi movies where crisis is averted: if these towns were to be infected, instead, by a deadly strain of virus, everything that could be mobilised in aid would be.  The town would be quarantined, the president (undoubtedly Morgan Freeman) would bring in the best biologists and medics, the antidote would be found and everyone would be immunised before our popcorn ran out.  Then we would all go home, having been a little bit scared but comfortable in the knowledge that with a bit of good old American knowhow and inventiveness, no problem is too big that we can’t overcome it.

So where is that spirit and gumption when it comes to addiction? Is the unacceptable loss of life through addiction any less of a national — even global — emergency?  Surely we don’t think that these losses are acceptable.  Therefore, should we not be bringing together our best brains so that we can start immunising our population against addiction?  OK, you might say this is not Hollywood; this is real life and I could not agree more. This is real life, ask anyone who is involved in addiction. We need to acknowledge this problem and deal with it.

So how do we immunise a population against addiction?  We tried prohibition and it didn’t work.  We have been waging a global war on drugs and it isn’t working.  This type of model, aimed at disrupting the supply of substances, tends to create more harm than it prevents.  For a start, it creates business opportunities for criminals who will continue to meet the demand that people have for substances that take the edge off the pressures of life.  And, perhaps paradoxically, the people who have the greatest pressure are the unemployed, the poor and the people who have little hope in their lives.

If we are going to immunise society against addiction, we need to inject it with a powerful antivirus — and the most powerful antivirus of all is hope.  It is hope that stops us from giving up when things get tough.  It is hope that makes the difference between success and failure.  It is hope that makes us strive and grow as people who want to build a better future for our children.  Where there is no or little hope, people do not respect themselves or others and addiction tends to flourish.

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So where does Monteith fit in here? After all, he had it all: money, fame and an adoring public.  Agreed, he certainly does not seem to fit the addict model, but we know that poverty and hopelessness comes in many forms.  Many years ago the sociologist Durkheim showed that there was a high rate of suicide among people who seemed to be very successful.  In explaining this apparent anomaly he coined the phrase "anomie" to account for the no-man’s land that successful people can find themselves.  This is a place where they are no longer comfortable with old friends (who may be jealous of their success) and new friends (who use them for their own ends).  So, the anomie they experience is a poverty of the spirit.

How do we inject hope into our society?  I wish I could say read on and this article will provide all the answers.  It won’t because we (John and Lou) don’t have them all.  What we do have are lots of questions that will help start the conversation. Here are some of them:

Why do we persist with policies that don’t work?  Why don’t our politicians address the root causes of addiction?  And it isn't just politicians; society itself does not truly help.  Why do we reduce hope further still by continuing to spread the myth that "you cannot help an addict until they are ready to change"?  If this really is true, we might as well close all treatment centres, as they are wasting their time.  However, this myth flies in the face of all the research and treatment practices of the last 30 years.  If you live with an addict and have been trying for years unsuccessfully to get them to change, you might say it is not a myth at all. "You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink." 

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While we agree to some extent, the point that we make continually is  that "you can gallop the horse and make him thirsty."  What that means is that maybe we can’t actually make someone change, but we can most certainly exert a powerful influence that will make them much more likely to change. We need to teach people the correct way to help their loved ones and friends; to show them that interventions, planned and skilfully applied, are much more powerful and successful than random confrontations.  That is what we do in Bottled Up.

We want to end this article with one suggestion, one we hope that Monteith would have liked.  If you live with an addict or have a friend that is showing signs of alcoholism or addictive behaviour, don't ignore them.  Make a resolution to say to them every day for a week, "I love you but I’m scared. I don't want to lose you."  If it saves just one person, then that is the most fitting epitaph for Cory Monteith; to be remembered as an agent for recovery rather than as an addict. 

Goodbye Cory. We hope you have found peace, and a place in a new and even better choir.

For more information about Bottled Up and influencing an addict come and see us at Bottled Up.