When Your Kid Deals Drugs: The Victimization of Addiction

Dr. Robin Barnett, EdD, LCSW, LCADC, CSAT

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed the other day and came across a post that laid out the facts about a local drug bust of a kid who had gotten hooked on heroin and ended up dealing the drug. He was arrested twice within in a week, and, as the Facebook poster pointed out, was found in possession of enough heroin to kill all the kids in their school district.

Pretty grim stuff.

While the facts were accurate, the tone was also unmistakable: blanket judgment for the kid who was arrested, painting him with a broad stroke as the kind of “bad hombre” whom our society was better off without.

It is true that heroin is dangerous drug, and that our communities are safer without them. It is also true that it was a crime for this young man to deal those drugs, and that he must be held accountable for that crime. And, yes, it is tremendously sobering to think about the potential impact those drugs could have on our community, enticing countless others into a devastating addiction.

Certainly, I acknowledge the truth in all those things … yet I see something more, something bigger, and in some ways even more devastating.

What I see is the bigger picture, the entire system within which addiction is currently viewed and dealt with. And, let me tell you, that system is broken, unwittingly perpetuating the very things it purports to fight.

Let’s take a larger view at this situation for some context.

A good kid, raised in a good home, in a solid community, with every opportunity in the world nonetheless gets caught up in drugs and eventually addicted to them. Many people who read this sentence immediately formulated a judgment, something along the lines of, sounds like the bad kid in the bunch, or something was going on in that family that led that boy to drugs or I would never let that happen in my family.

But it’s not that simple. It never is.

Addiction is real and insidious and respects no race or socioeconomic status. It equally targets young and old and rich and poor and black and white. And it is a disease to be treated, not villainized. What’s more is, how we as society treat our mentally ill shapes the role their disease plays in our communities—for good or for bad.

If we see those who are suffering with addiction as evil and treat them as such, then we aren’t focused on getting them the help they need. To be clear, if they commit a crime, they certainly should be held accountable for their actions as the law dictates. However, we shouldn’t celebrate these events, wash our hands of the person, and move on with our lives without looking at the underlying problem and trying to find a real and lasting solution.

That merely deepens the self-imposed divide of us and them. But when it comes to addiction, it’s entirely us. We are all in this together because there isn’t one person whom addiction has not affected in one way or another.

Rather than villainize and victimize those with addictions—which only leads to more anger, resentment, and addictive behaviors—now, more than ever, we need a shift toward compassion. A clear-eyed view of the destruction addiction leaves in its wake in both the addicted person’s life and the lives of everyone they touch.

Because we are all affected, because all of our communities are being ripped apart by addiction—from heroin to prescription drugs to alcoholism—it’s up to all of us to be part of the solution.

Because, frankly, the way we’ve viewed addiction so far isn’t working. Things aren’t getting better. They’re getting much, much worse. And when something doesn’t work, you change course. Find a better way.

One critical shift is seeing the addiction as an illness, rather than a moral shortcoming. This allows us to focus, rightly, on treating the addiction instead of writing off the person as the bad apple in the bunch. We look at the system as whole that creates and supports addiction and try to fix what’s wrong along the way. These individuals, after all, will re-join society and without the proper help, chances of recidivism is great. Some do not agree that addiction is a disease, like diabetes or other chronic illnesses. Some believe that this is totally behavioral. I have debated with many who see addiction this way. It never ends well, and it never ends with a solution other than the increase in the prison system.

Admittedly, finding a solution is far easier said than done, given the many layers of the problem, but it’s a start down a path that might actually yield better results than the current approach.

Starting at the center of an ever-expanding concentric circle, we start with our own mindsets, our families, then look at neighborhoods, cities, states, and our drug culture as a whole and diagnose what’s sick in each layer. What’s broken and needs fixing.

We must come together to work toward finding solutions, and not create unsolvable hopelessness.

Dr. Robin Barnett, EdD, LCSW, LCADC, CCS, CSAT is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor, Certified Clinical Supervisor, and Certified Sex Addiction Therapist. She is involved in the fabric of several TV shows, and has appeared on FOX, MTV, CNN, CBS, and NBC. She is currently seen on the Steve Wilkos Show as an Addictions Expert. Her book, “Addict in The House: A No Nonsense Family Guide Through Addiction and Recovery” is the “Go-to” book for thousands of families trapped in this dangerous dysfunction.  Following a successful private practice, Dr. Robin co-founded a highly respected Addictions Treatment Center. She now brings her years of experience and education to the world through her various tv appearances, public speaking, educational and e-therapy services.