BY: T. Franklin Murphy | January 22, 2020
A battle rages, fingers are pointed but the epidemic lives on. Our approach to addiction as a society and individuals have failed. We need to do better.
We're faced with a powerful paradox, pitting opposing sides, contributing to the growing epidemic. On one side the moralist believes addiction is evil and those addicted are sinners. On the other side, the idealists believe the state can solve addiction with a program. Addiction is complex neither a prison nor a program can cure addiction.
Prisons certainly fail to solve individual addictions. The high incarceration rates for non-violent offenses during the 90’s was ridiculous. The powerful moralist movement thought they could lock-away the problem, especially when the problem was crack cocaine, disproportionately affecting minorities. Drug abuse continued to expand.
However, solving this crisis will require more than a program. As many intelligent parents have found, they can't force sobriety on their children. No program, housing, or car can buy their child out of addiction, abolishing the child's freedom.
As many intelligent parents have found, they can't force sobriety on their children.
"There is an interaction between the individual and the risk and protective factors that influence whether the individual becomes addicted and whether he or she leaves the addiction. The transitions into and out of addictions do not occur without the participation of the addicted individual." Carlo C. DiClemente, PhD
There's powerlessness in addiction, for the addicted as well as those desiring to help. As an individual’s consumption habits increase, a vicious cycle undermines personal agency. The chemicals commandeer the mind, interfering with normal processing. As the addiction develops, the capacity for rational judgement diminishes. The drug or alcohol abuser is in dire need of help; but resistance and defensiveness prove impassable. Addiction robs personal power from those that need it most.
The paradox collides here. Those most in need of help, suffering from the diminished capacity of addiction are forced to enter a system rife with more red tape than any other program. The moralists are so concerned about protecting abuses that those in need can’t navigate the ever-changing requirements. The system needs to improve. Medical care needs to be more accessible, doctors better trained, and programs funded. This would be a start. Police officers and communities need to be more compassionate, bolstering their response with resources to effectively work with homelessness and petty crimes.
However, even with a better system, individuals must choose to be healed. Addictions are only solved when those afflicted choose to use the system. We can't be coddled into recovery. Some policies, like well-meaning parents, further the problem, acting as co-conspirators, enabling the problem.
Harm reduction is honorable. The complexity of addiction often leaves parents, family and friends at a loss. We can’t force a cure, but we can minimize the harm.
As a society, we need to improve access to recovery, while providing compassionate harm reducing comforts. As an individual, we need to stop blaming the system, take advantage of the imperfect resources available, and push through the painful barriers to change.
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