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TED TALK 2: Is Our Treatment of Addicts and Substance Abusers Fair? - Drug Rehab and Alcohol Treatment

TED TALK 2: Is Our Treatment of Addicts and Substance Abusers Fair?


Speaker: Emily Levine




TED talk by comedian and philosopher, Emily Levine, focuses on the differences between subject and object and what it takes to change the perceptions associated with the Western hierarchical way of thinking and approach to change.



Her first job as a comedian was in theater game improvisation. The only rule of the games was:


“You could never deny another person’s realty. You could only build on it.”


Emily Levine TED Talk


Levine uses this as a jumping off point to talk about the notion of contradiction, how logic is constructed in Western world, more-or-less top-down approach to society, the separation of mind and body, which impact how we separate people between “us” vs. “them” or “it,” and, lastly, to how to make change (based on the notion of a “trickster”) within these (or opposed to these) structures.


Emily Levine TED talk


Levine notes five ways a person can make change:


1. Cross boundaries.

2. Have non-oppositional strategies (allow more than one reality to coexist).

3. Be prepared to be unprepared (hold onto ideas lightly).

4. Walk a fine line or have poise.

5. He doesn’t have a home (change is never finished or never has an end result).



Relation to Addiction:


We took on Levine’s challenge to connect the unconnected.


On the surface, this TED talk may seem unrelated to drugs, addiction, and rehabilitation. However, we grabbed onto Levine’s concepts to always be open to new possibilities in situations and the notion of objectivity and how objectifying a person, place or thing can immediately stop a conversation and end all creativity and new ideas.


Our question is: Applying this approach to drug addiction, rehabilitation, and people who struggle with drug abuse – 


 - How are addicts treated and talked about?


 - When talking about the impact of addiction on lives, are drug addicts’ opinions and ideas heard? had a recent article about addiction stigma. It opened up the dialogue about how the negative stereotypes and associations of drug addiction prevent people struggling with addiction from getting help.


According to the article, a University of Nevada study that found an addict’s perceived negativity and stigma towards his/her addiction affects his/her success in overcoming the addiction. The results are extremely sad:


  • 60% of the drug users in the study felt that people treated them differently after finding out about their drug use.
  • 46% felt people were afraid of them once they found out they were drug abusers.
  • 45% felt their family gave up on them
  • 48% felt rejected by friends
  • 14% felt they received lower wages because of their drug abuse


All About Addiction hits the nail on the head:


“The current addiction treatment system has produced a seeming paradox [for the addict] – By owning up to their addictions, addicts reduce the invisibility of the problem, helping others claim back their lives from the secrecy of substance abuse and behavioral addictions. Unfortunately, that process takes far longer than the stigma the confessing addict has to immediately confront.”


How are the ways addicts portrayed, talked about or “dealt with” contributing to the stigma? In what light or type of language does the media, educators about drug addiction, even the addiction treatment community, use to talk about addicts? Is there an “us” vs. “them” tone? Does this contributes to the acceptance of addicts in society?


While this short video by Dr. Daniel Fisher is based on peer-run respites for psychological issues, his approach to people ”recovering your humanity”.


As Levine says, it is important to never deny another person’s realty, but build on it, so that all voices are not only heard and respected, but also incorporated in the process of change and improvement. Not only should the personal experiences of addict be de-stigmatized, their input should be used to develop new types of treatment, rehabilitation, and recovery.


These are the questions about drug addiction that came up when we watched this hilarious and touching TED talk.


What do you think? How are drug abusers talked about? Are their opinions and experiences embraced and used to create change? Tell us in the comment section below.

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