Although addiction does have a physiological-psychological component, which hints at how we might medically treat those whose biology makes them more susceptible to the reinforcing nature of addictive substances, Russell Brand is right when he says we do not know how to treat addicts. First of all, a disease of this nature is difficult to treat, because it is rooted in our basic psychological response to appetitive stimuli. In other words, drugs take advantage of our response to any chemical that make us “feel good,” thus addiction is not a disease that can be cured by fixing something in the body. At best, you might eventually retrain someone to find certain drugs too aversive for consumption while your best hope is often to find ways to deprive addicts of their drugs.
That said, Brand was also referencing how our society treats drug addicts. I remember a childhood field trip to a local police station where the holding cells lacked mattresses. We were told by an officer: “if people want to act like animals, we’re going to treat them like animals.” Criminalizing drugs gives authorities the ability to arrest drug users and drug dealers. Unfortunately, our culture often embraces perverse incentives while those in positions of authority too often forget they are given their power to serve, not to discriminate.
Instead of addressing the underlying social need to help drug addicts overcome their self-destructive behavior, our authorities too often treat addicts as inferiors in need of authoritative correction, thus they mistreat addicts. Certainly, society cannot tolerate the misconduct of addicts, but we must also remember they are in need of our help. In fact, taking a punitive approach to drug use does nothing to prevent drug abuse; it only marginalizes drug addicts and somewhat lessens the negative impact of drug abuse on our society. Instead of self-righteously condemning our drug addicts and finding ways of throwing them away, we need to find ways of serving them, so they overcome their addiction and our society can reap the benefits of a drug free culture.
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