A look at Hunter Biden: addiction, stereotypes, and stigmas
Almost half of Americans have a family member or close friend who has gone through addiction, and for Joe Biden, Hunter is that family member.
According to the National Institutes of Health, about 10% of all adults have struggled with a drug use disorder at some point in their lives. Fatal overdoses are on the rise in the U.S., and addiction is being acknowledged as a major problem in many communities.
Similarly to many Americans, Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden’s youngest son, is currently in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. A Pew Research study done in 2017 concluded that almost half of Americans have a family member or close friend who has gone through addiction, and for Joe Biden, Hunter is that family member.
Similarly to Joe Biden, Laetitia Clement, who is heavily involved with Attack Addiction in Delaware, had a family member who struggled with addiction. Clement’s younger sister fought a long battle against addiction but eventually took her own life. Clement said her sister was “beautiful, intelligent, hilarious, strong and a straight-A nursing student.” When she got in a bad car accident, she was prescribed Oxycontin, and within a few weeks, she became dependent on it.
“She managed to find different pain management doctors who would just write her a [prescription] without doing any sort of maintenance with her, as far as seeing whether she actually needed it, or whatever,” Clement said. “So, she would get these [prescriptions] for Oxy and then that got too expensive, so then her boyfriend at the time introduced her to heroin, and she literally went from a straight-A nursing student to a heroin addict in the span of months.”
Clement described the experience as the “worst, most consuming” thing she has ever been through in her life and said that she would not even wish it on her worst enemy.
“To sum it up, it’s the worst experience; it’s like mourning someone when they’re still alive, like grieving someone when they’re still walking around on the earth,” Clement said.
Clement also described her experience of not even being able to take care of herself in the way that she should have been, because of how consuming it is to have a family member struggling with addiction.
“I was not taking care of myself in the way that I should because I was so consumed by trying to save her that, you kind of lose yourself,” Clement said. “If you don’t take the steps to take care of yourself, which I didn’t know how to do at that point — I didn’t have a support group, I didn’t have people to talk to, I didn’t know what to do; I was literally grasping at straws, telling my job to fire me if they had to, but I needed to go find my little sister somewhere on the street, you know, it’s just horrific.”
Clement also experienced the stigmas surrounding addiction and on social media, which Joe and Hunter Biden are no strangers to.
In the first presidential debate, President Trump targeted Hunter Biden for being discharged from the Navy due to a positive cocaine test, to which Joe Biden responded in support of Hunter.
“My son, like a lot of people, like a lot of people you know at home, had a drug problem,” Joe Biden said. “He’s overtaken it, he’s fixed it, he’s worked on it and I’m proud of him.”
In addition to the president’s attacks, both Joe and Hunter Biden have to deal with the addiction stigma on social media.
Clement experienced similar hardships with people attacking drug users on the internet and social media.
“You go online, and you talk to somebody, or you read an article, or whatever, and you see these people saying stuff like, ‘Oh, Darwinism at its finest,’ like, ‘Trash, they deserve to die,’ and so you have that whole aspect where it’s like a gut punch every single time,” Clement said.
Domenica Personti, who currently works for Recovery Centers of America and has worked in addiction facilities since 1998, said that one of the most prominent stigmas that people either struggling in active addiction or in recovery have to deal with is that they’re seen as “weak.” However, Personti said that’s just not realistic.
“This is a disease that people suffer from, and when people are diagnosed with hypertension or high blood pressure, we don’t say, ‘Oh, you’re really weak, so you should just go ahead and lose those 40 pounds so that your blood pressure comes down,’ you know, we don’t do that,” Personti said. “The doctor does a treatment plan, they prescribe medication, they prescribe a healthy way of living, they prescribe diet and exercise and everyone gets behind them and says, ‘Man, we really hope that you treat that hypertension because we don’t want you to have a heart attack and die.’”
Some people’s reaction to someone who is struggling with active addiction is much less compassionate, according to Personti.
“When an individual is diagnosed with a substance use disorder, we say, ‘Just stop using drugs, just stop, stop all the things that you’ve done and all the pain that you’re trying to quell, just stop doing that, and your life will get better,’” Personti said.
Clement said that another large part of the stigma around addiction is the label that it puts on people, which practically follows the person around for their entire life. Hunter Biden, even after being in recovery for so long, continues to be labeled as an “addict” by social media users and others.
“I’ve talked to a million people in recovery, and, you know, to think of the worst mistake you’ve ever made in your life, and imagine that being what you’re called for the rest of your life, like, say you stole something when you were eight, you’re a thief for the rest of your life,” Clement said. “Take the worst thing you’ve ever done, and that’s what defines you.”
Clement also said that the stigma alone is the reason why a lot of people relapse and that the shame and guilt is too much to handle sometimes.
“People just think they can say whatever they want,” Clement said. “For people in recovery, it’s a thin line to walk, as far as having the strength to look past that and not relapse because of the shame.”
Jessica Estock, the assistant director for substance use recovery services at the university, and coordinator for the Collegiate Recovery Community, said that relapse can certainly be a part of someone’s recovery process.
“In my mind, I also compare that to relapse with other diseases, so you know, a person who has diabetes might undergo a period of time where it’s not as controlled as it would be at other times,” Estock said. “Drug and alcohol use can be pretty similar.”
For Hunter Biden, relapse was a large part of the recovery process. A detailed profile of Hunter in the New Yorker recounts several instances of relapse.
Estock also said that the process after each person’s relapse is very personalized to what that specific person needs at that time.
“For some people, that means going to support groups like AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] or NA [Narcotics Anonymous] or Refuge Recovery,” Estock said. “For some people that means going to therapy and seeking professional assistance; for some people, that means getting connected with some spiritual organization, or a church.”
Hunter Biden’s route of recovery after relapse was mainly focused on different outpatient treatment programs around the country, according to the New Yorker profile.
Overall, according to Personti, Clement and Estock, education, speaking up for others and being compassionate are the keys to destigmatizing addiction, even if addiction and its effects are foreign to some.
“I understand that not everyone will grasp all of this, because I didn’t, and I still get frustrated by it,” Clement said. “But the biggest thing you can do is just try to educate yourself on the topic, and really try to open yourself and your mind and understand that these are still people, and they’re still deserving of life, and people in recovery are some of the strongest people I’ve ever known, and just to show a little more compassion and understanding, and try to educate yourself, and then when you do that, you can educate others, and that’s where the stigma will be broken down.”