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Why it's important Donald Trump and other candidates discuss addiction in their families

Donald Trump got surprisingly candid and personal on Thursday, speaking to CNN's Anderson Cooper about his brother's ultimately deadly addiction to alcohol.

"My brother Fred was a great guy. He had everything. I mean, the most handsome guy," Trump said. "And then he got hooked — and there was nothing, there was nothing we could do about it."

Trump's brother, Fred, reportedly died due to his alcoholism at 43, following years of struggling with addiction. (The New York Times wrote about Fred's life in much greater detail here.)

Like many stories of addiction, it's absolutely tragic — something that Trump characterized as having a deep impact on his life. And for anyone listening, the story humanizes addicts, demonstrating that addiction can occur in any family, even in incredibly wealthy ones.

But Trump isn't the first 2016 presidential candidate to take this tack on the campaign trail — and the candidates' recent candid remarks about addiction could help change our public discourse about drug abuse.

Other candidates have shared stories about addiction

At a Republican debate in September, Carly Fiorina told her daughter's tragic story: "I very much hope I am the only person on this stage who can say this, but I know there are millions of Americans out there who will say the same thing: My husband, Frank, and I buried a child to drug addiction. So we must invest more in the treatment of drugs."

Jeb Bush, too, has shared his daughter's story on the campaign trail.

"As a father, I have felt the heartbreak of drug abuse. My daughter Noelle suffered from addiction, and like many parents facing similar situations, her mom and I struggled to help," Bush wrote on Medium in January. "I have so many friends and know so many families who have faced this terrible challenge. Addiction crosses all barriers, all lines, all races, and all incomes. It creates real hardship and heartbreak in families. And, it places substantial demands on government at every level."

What makes these moments remarkable is how they characterize addiction not as a moral failing but as an illness that needs to be dealt with through prevention and treatment. It's a sharp contrast to the politics of old — which helped lead to the war on drugs and its emphasis on criminal justice and law enforcement over public health policies.

There are still big problems with how the country deals with drug abuse, as practically any drug policy expert will tell you. But one of the broader problems that follows drug addicts, according to surveys, is stigma, based on the idea that addicts somehow have themselves to blame for their problem — even though addiction really can happen to anyone of any background.

By shining a light on their own stories, the candidates can help break through some of that stigma by showing it can happen to anyone of any background, including families that are strong enough to have people running for president. It's one of the unexpected benefits of the 2016 election so far.