I have been reading lots of opinions regarding the incredibly tragic loss of one of our great actors, Philip Seymour Hoffman, to a drug overdose. Many opinions are harsh, critical and judging of him and his “selfish” act.

Drinking and using drugs irresponsibly initially is nearly always a selfish act because, since childhood, we have been privileged with the information that using can be hurtful to our friends, family and coworkers. That’s where the choice to use or not all too frequently ends.

Once addiction takes hold, long before most people realize it (“Who me?”), the choice to use is no longer available. Rather, the chemistry of the brain makes it impossible to make the “unselfish” decision to cease the behavior without support.

Do we blame people for moral weakness when they have heart disease or cancer? Many of the people I work with have come by their addiction honestly, through treatment for injuries or chronic pain.

What makes it possible for some people to get clean and sober and not others? Until we have the answer to that question undeniably, we cannot afford to judge.

Sometimes long-suppressed unresolved issues, such as shame and abuse by self and others, make it necessary to have even more support. The judgment of others usually means, “I can’t help you because you won’t help yourself,” which leads to more shame, more use and even more covert behaviors.


Our culture has become far less tolerant of emotional, physical, mental and spiritual shortcomings than in the past.

Until our culture can find its compassionate backbone and begin to see how addiction is a human problem, not just “their” problem, we will continue to underfund addiction and mental health treatment for all in need and continue to find ways to dissect and compartmentalize each other.

Margaret Shirer

South Portland

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