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Changing attitudes around addiction starts with a better understanding of the disease

As we’ve learned so painfully in this country, it is hard to change people’s minds about the things we believe.

Telling us facts just doesn’t do it. But oddly, telling stories can.

I’m not sure why except that stories help us make sense of our world and can help us see it and ourselves in new ways. They can also help us see ourselves in others - even others we don’t initially feel connected to.

That’s why I believe the art of William Stoehr is so important to the conversation around addiction.

blurred image of woman

The artist, who paints intense portraits on large canvases, is telling stories through his work about people who are addicted and about the impact the disease is having on their brains and behavior.

His portraits are dark, raw, and exposed as if the skin has been pulled back and we’re seeing the naked truth of a person.

I came across Stoehr’s work around addiction through an NPR profile in which he said he wants his portraits “to provoke the sort of conversations (around addiction) that people began having about HIV/AIDS decades ago.”

Stoehr’s sister died from an overdose after becoming addicted to alcohol and opiates and his portrait of her has come to stand “for everyone who is a victim, witness or a survivor."

"Prevention and treatment and recovery can't take place until we get rid of the stigma and people are willing to seek help," Stoehr is quoted as saying.

Conversations around changing attitudes and ending the stigma around mental illness are becoming more common, but in many ways, we haven’t really addressed the same issues around addiction. I think that’s because collectively, we’re still working on understanding that addiction is a disease and not a choice, or as the NPR article says, a moral failing.

Telling stories through art, especially art that is raw and real and unafraid to show dark difficult truths is one way to move this conversation forward.

See for yourself. Check out William Stoehr’s portraits here.

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