Earlier this week, it was reported that Demi Lovato has been taken to hospital in Los Angeles for treatment of a suspected overdose.
It was reported that the 25-year-old pop star and mental health activist had been found unconscious at the scene, and treated with naloxone, an anti-opioid medicine, leading to allegations that the singer overdosed on an opiate.
Many people have taken to social media to express their support, love and thoughts for Lovato at this difficult time, with high profile celebrities such as Katy Perry; Ariana Grande and Lily Allen sending their thoughts and prayers that she makes a safe and quick recovery.
Lily Allen mirrored her concern for Lovato's welfare:
Poor beautiful spirit @ddlovato I hope she's ok, and that she makes a full recovery soon.
Others, however, haven't been as supportive. In a shocking reaction to the news that the pop star appears to have relapsed, there has been a backlash online with some people blaming Lovato for her descent back into addiction, and saying that living as an addict is a lifestyle choice, not an illness.
We have deliberately chosen not to air these views in this article, but they're out there.
This is not only wrong when held to account against psychological research and knowledge, it's also severely damaging to those who suffer with mental illness and addiction, because it totally places all blame onto the person suffering, instead of offering them the support, help and understanding that they actually need to get better. Below, we explain why this is wrong by taking a look at the facts.
What is addiction?
According to Mind, the UK's leading mental health charity, most people who suffer from an addiction have an underlying mental health problem. Often, the drug addiction is used by the sufferer as a way of coping with feelings that the sufferer doesn't feel able to deal with in any other way.
This alone indicates that the sufferer shouldn't be blamed for their behaviour, but instead should be supported, and treated for the underlying issue causing the use of drugs or alcohol. The American Psychiatric Association describes an addiction as a chronic brain disease manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence.
Addiction is a chronic relapsed brain disease where people use drugs despite the fact they have harmful consequences. People with addictive behaviour have distorted thinking and body functions. Changes in the brain's wiring are what cause intense cravings for the drug, and make it very hard to stop using, according to the American Psychiatric Association.
Over time, people with addiction also build up a tolerance, meaning they need larger amounts to feel the same effects. People with addictive disorders may be aware of the fact they have an illness, but they may not be able to stop the destructive behaviour even if they want to.
How is addiction treated?
There are a number of effective treatments available for addiction. The first step on the road to recovery is the acceptance that there is a problem, which then paves the way to friends and family being able to stage an intervention, or seek treatment for their loved one.
A health professional is then able to conduct a series of tests to see whether a substance abuse disorder exists. For most people, a combination of medication and individual or group therapy is the most effective treatment. It's often only when a holistic approach to recovery is adopted, which takes into account medical, psychiatric and social problems, that a sustained recovery can be achieved.
Medications can be used to control cravings for drugs, while talking therapies can help people understand themselves and their motivations for taking drugs more clearly.
How can I help someone that I think may be suffering from an addiction or in danger of a re-lapse?
If one of your loved ones is suffering from an addiction to drugs or alcohol, there are a number of ways you can best help them to start to recover. The first, and most important, step is to reach out to the loved one that you think may be suffering from an addiction, and to encourage them to accept that there might be a problem.
A flexible and caring approach is important, which isn't confrontational, or accusatory. Express concern for your loved one, while also presenting the facts while avoiding using moral judgements or accusations. Rather than saying 'I think you drink too much', instead say 'last night you slurred your words and shouted, which was frightening'.
It's also important to stress the fact that an addiction is an illness, not a moral weakness or a lack of willpower. Offer information about how the individual can access professional help, without forcing them to get help.