There is absolutely no arguing that drugs are a problem in America. We are currently facing a massive issue of opioid overdoses, particularly through prescription drugs, and mass incarceration continues to try and address a problem it cannot ever fix.
While drugs are a problem, the way we’re going about teaching our kids about them is also lacking. And the media’s continued one-dimensional exploration of drug addiction doesn’t help either. If drugs are to be stopped, we need to do a better job of understanding addiction.
Incarceration Doesn’t Really Work
Incarceration as a means of stopping drugs and drug dealers isn’t the ideal solution to the drug problem. First of all, putting drug addicts in jail doesn’t help them address what made them addicted in the first place, and it’s not a reliable way to keep them sober once they get out (or even while they’re in, in some cases). Indeed, cycling people through prison isn’t as effective or cost-effective as treatment.
Drug dealers aren’t all in it purely for the profit – some do it to survive on the streets, or as part of a greater culture of survival through drug trade. Vilifying the choice to turn to drugs as a way to cope with poverty in America without providing the tools for minorities to truly work their way out of the ghetto is part of the greater issue. Even while a lucky few pull themselves out by their bootstraps, the majority of endeavors to make it out ‘clean’ are doomed to fail.
Touching Upon Decriminalization & Why
Past the conjecture, the statistics show that incarceration has done absolutely nothing good for America’s war on drugs, only further vilifying and fear-mongering drugs and making them a deeply stigmatized and misunderstood issue in American politics and culture. In fact, there are more than a few rational people out there who will argue that decriminalization is a viable solution.
Portugal succeeded in applying the theory, lowering its overdose rate by treating addiction as a healthcare issue, rather than a criminal issue. Whether the statistic is purely to attribute to the decriminalization is another matter, however, and advocating decriminalization without more data is still a little foolhardy.
While that’s a debate no one’s going to bring to the official podium for a while, it does shed some insight on the fact that the issue with addiction isn’t that addicts aren’t being vilified or punished enough for their actions – throwing people in jail for being addicted is a little bit like incarcerating someone for a mental illness. Although considering our statistics on the mentally ill population of our prisons versus our hospitals (ten to one), you could call that a consistent trend.
Addiction Is Often a Form of Medication
Going back onto what was touched upon earlier, addiction is quite often a maladaptive behavior adopted for the purpose of covering up a great issue, a more depressing list of symptoms. Childhood trauma is a common cause for addiction, and another is deep anxiety, insecurity and bullying paired with peer pressure.
Of course, that doesn’t mean addicts don’t contribute to their addiction with choice, or that they don’t have any responsibility in where they are in life. But the personal responsibility of an addict doesn’t lie in repenting for the fact that they are addicted, but rather in the responsibility to do something about their addiction. There are more than enough people out there who are trapped into a cycle of addiction without their full consent – they either didn’t know the consequences, or didn’t understand the long-term repercussions. But it’s still on them to get better.
Once they do, however, far too many relapse again. Some say that that is because addiction is a chronic disease. Others say that it’s because they’re being told it’s okay to relapse, and that upon reaching sobriety, all the feelings and symptoms they had covered up come flooding back, and without the adequate therapy or mental healthcare to address them they decide it’s better to fall back onto the drugs than deal with the issue.
Whatever the issue may be, we need to address addiction as not just an issue of choice, but a typical symptom of underlying mental illness, and a sign that someone is trapped within a seriously vicious cycle of insecurity and negativity.
Addiction Can’t Be Generalized
The view of addiction as an on or off state also needs to be shattered. You don’t take a hit and are so and so many percentage points on the way towards becoming a full blown junkie. Like other mental illnesses, addiction comes on a spectrum of possible severity, with mild cases of addiction, and much more extreme and severe cases of addiction, based on a wide variety of factors from genetics and family history to personal circumstance and environment.
Better Education Is Needed
Drugs are bad, and that’s the end of discussion. This doesn’t really include prescription medication or address the fact that alcohol can be more addicting than cocaine. Leading with that sort of an argument when trying to educate our children is a massive mistake.
The simplistic “drugs are bad” narrative is patronizing, and begs for a more thorough explanation, which is rarely given. Lessons on addiction, and a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between all drugs and mental health can give both parents and kids better cause to look out for each other, and value a drug-free environment.
Furthermore, it’s important that kids – and the general public – understand what constitutes as addiction. Relying on alcohol to get through the day is as much a form of addiction as methamphetamine dependence, or a diet of painkillers – even after a debilitating injury.
Prescription medication is just as potentially addicting as other more illicit drugs, and self-medicating chronic pain or other issues through higher doses of prescription opioids and benzodiazepines mirrors the common issue of utilizing drugs as a form of self-medication for depression and anxiety.
We need to do away with our outdated and rigid definitions of what drugs are, what addiction is, and that it’s all bad because it hurts people and that’s that. The issue is much more complicated than that, and we all deserve a more nuanced, factual, and inclusive and understanding look at the problem – and the solution of achieving sobriety.
Once we instill a much more stigma-free, unbiased understanding of addiction to combat our use and abuse of opioids in chronic pain, we can shape policy around building a better system of healthcare and social services to address the poverty that causes people to turn to addiction to begin with, and the many conditions that develop chronic pain, such as arthritis and obesity.