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Responses to Demi Lovato and Mac Miller’s Overdoses Highlight an Alarming Truth

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Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Juliette Virzi, The Mighty’s associate mental health editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.

When news broke last week that rapper Mac Miller died from a reported drug overdose, many offered support and prayers (including Miller’s close friend Shane Powers), but a sizable group of people were quick to blame instead.

And blame they did.

Instead of blaming Miller for “choosing” to be an addict (as people often do when someone overdoses), the internet wasted no time in going after one of its favorite targets — women.

The outpouring of blame and hate directed at singer and ex-girlfriend Ariana Grande was significant enough that she disabled her Instagram comments completely. Folks blamed her for breaking up with Miller, moving on romantically in a quick engagement to Pete Davidson and ultimately failing to “save” her ex from his demons.

Grande has been shamed about Mac Miller before. In May, Twitter user Elijah Flint tweeted about how “heartbreaking” it was that Ariana Grande broke up with rapper Mac Miller after he had written a 10-song album called “The Divine Feminine.”

Grande, who parted ways with Miller in May, responded to Flint’s comment, sharing that her relationship with Miller was a “toxic” one.

“I am not a babysitter or a mother and no woman should feel that they need to be,” she wrote. “I have cared for him and tried to support his sobriety & prayed for his balance for years… but shaming/blaming women for a man’s inability to keep his shit together is a very major problem.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time the internet has shamed women for addiction issues. In July, when singer and mental health advocate Demi Lovato had a near-fatal drug overdose, the internet exploded with reactions ranging from support and love to insensitive memes to flat-out condemnation. Many claimed the incident was not only her fault but that she chose to be a “junkie” because she made the choice to take drugs in the first place.

To put this claim into perspective, Lovato was introduced to cocaine for the first time at age 17. She’s now 26, and has been retroactively blamed for a decision she made almost a decade ago — not to mention that at the time, she had not yet been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Studies suggest about 56 percent of people with bipolar disorder will struggle with addiction at some point in their lives.

If we are going with the “logic” of blaming an ex-partner for not “saving” the other from addiction, why haven’t people blamed Lovato’s ex-boyfriend, actor Wilmer Valderrama, for her overdose? Like Grande and Miller, the pair parted ways recently.

Twitter user Carly May pointed out the disparity in the way Miller and Lovato’s overdoses were treated. She wrote, “When Demi Lovato overdoses, addiction is a choice. When Mac Miller overdoses, it’s Ariana Grande’s fault. Y’all sure do hate women.”

While these examples may not necessarily point to outright “hatred” of women, they are certainly indicative of an alarming truth. We place an enormous burden on women to be perfect — to never struggle themselves and always be available to “fix” or put up with the imperfections of men.

When we blame Demi Lovato for “choosing addiction” but turn right around and shift blame to Ariana Grande for not “saving” Mac Miller, we send the message that it’s the woman’s fault. When a grown woman overdoses on drugs, it’s her fault. When a grown man overdoses on drugs, it’s the adjacent woman in his life’s fault.

We can’t keep holding women to unrealistic standards of perfection, while infantilizing men, and blaming the women in their lives for their inability to “fix” or “mother” them. Not only is it unfair to women, it contributes to learned helplessness which can make it harder for men to recover from addiction or other mental illnesses at all.

Maybe you’re sitting here thinking, “People are always awful to celebrities, this isn’t about gender at all.” Here are two more examples for you to consider.

In August, just one month after Demi Lovato was hospitalized for her overdose, People Magazine reported that actor Ben Affleck was entering rehab for the third time for his struggle with alcohol addiction. Lovato is currently in her third stint in rehab as well.

Here at The Mighty, we’re familiar with comment sections and how they can turn from supportive to downright nasty in the matter of minutes. (Yes, commenters, we see you!) When we posted about Lovato’s overdose, we did see a lot of support for the singer, but even more hateful and ignorant comments about her and addiction in general. On the flip side, when we posted the story about Affleck’s third time in rehab, it was all well wishes and prayers. One of our comment moderators even remarked how strange it was that there was nothing but love for Affleck, after wading through the messiness of comments on the Lovato story.

And then of course, there’s Courtney Love. Grande isn’t the first woman to be blamed for the death of a loved one struggling with addiction. In her Rolling Stone piece, “‘You Did This To Him’: Ariana Grande, Mac Miller and the Demonization of Women in Toxic Relationships,” writer Brittany Spanos wrote about how Love is still being blamed for the death of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, who died in 1994.

Courtney Love is still fielding social media comments and blog conspiracy theories that she not only was the reason Kurt Cobain became addicted to heroin (she was not) but also that she had actually murdered him and faked his suicide (also untrue). Cobain died two decades before these social media platforms even existed, yet the fact that Love’s comments can still attract a rogue claim like this speaks volumes to the way society continues to expect women to be caretakers for the men in their lives and reacts with fury when they apparently cannot absorb their partners’ pain.

In the wake of this news, it’s vital we stop blaming women. Here are three things we must keep in mind when it comes to women, mental health, addiction and caregiving.

1. Addiction is not a just a “man’s struggle.”

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), the gender gap between men and women who struggle with addiction is closing, with women comprising the fastest-growing segment of alcohol and drug users in the U.S. The NCADD notes that this trend is particularly concerning because women progress faster into addiction than men do, because they become addicted differently, start using for different reasons, recover differently and relapse for different reasons than men do.

2. Addiction isn’t a choice — even for women.

I can’t believe I have to say this, but addiction isn’t a choice — even for women. This is something Mighty contributor Lexie Manion wrote about in her piece, “The Harmful Misconception About Demi Lovato’s Drug Overdose We Need to Stop Believing.”

The biggest misconception I’ve seen repeated all day is that Demi chose this struggle with addiction. The thing is though, it never has and never will work that way. We’re talking about mood-altering substances that seem like a good coping mechanism in the moment, but ultimately manipulate one’s ability to cope and function at all. Sobriety is not an act of willpower. Sobriety is very much dependent on the person’s will to get help, but even beyond that, their brain and body’s ability to find reasons (that they can buy into) to stop using and find healthy coping mechanisms to replace the destructive ones.

3. Not only is it absolutely never the “woman’s job” to “fix” her man struggling with addiction — she can’t.

Much like suicide, when it comes to death by overdose, people tend to point the finger at loved ones who didn’t “save” the person from themselves. And as much as support and help from loved ones are vital for recovery, ultimately you cannot save another person, they have to save themselves.

Clinical psychologist Wizdom Powell commented on the emotional burden placed on women in an interview with Tonic. “When men suffer from mental health problems in silence and fall victim to substance abuse or suicide, it’s often women and girls who are left to pick up the pieces and take on caregiving burdens.”

Women struggling with addiction as well as women who are supporting loved ones with addiction deserve compassion and respect. Let’s leave the blame game at the door and lean into supporting the women in our lives.

Header Image via Creative Commons/Brook-Ward and Creative Commons/glennia

Originally published: September 12, 2018
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