That’s one of the powerful messages that comes from Johann Hari’s excellent new book “Chasing the Scream” (see my review earlier this week).
Everything we’ve done to address the issues of addiction within the context of the drug war has been all wrong. It’s focused on the drug causing addiction, when the notion of addiction has a lot more to do with other factors.
I looked at him just now, lying there, his face pallid again, and as I stroked his hair, I think I understood something for the first time. The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety. It’s connection. It’s all I can offer. It’s all that will help him in the end. If you are alone, you cannot escape addiction. If you are loved, you have a chance. For a hundred years we have been singing war songs about addicts. All along, we should have been singing love songs to them.
One thing has the potentialâ€”more than any otherâ€”to kill this attempt at healing. It is the drug war. If these people I love are picked up by the police during a relapse, and given a criminal record, and rendered unemployable, then it will be even harder for them to build connections with the world.
There’s so much we know about addiction, that has been studied about addiction, yet is ignored in all the major discussions about how to ‘deal’ with addicts. “Chasing the Scream” does an excellent job of discussing these issues.
[Gabor] has shown that the core of addiction doesn’t lie in what you swallow or injectâ€”it’s in the pain you feel in your head. Yet we have built a system that thinks we will stop addicts by increasing their pain. “If I had to design a system that was intended to keep people addicted, I’d design exactly the system that we have right now,” Gabor would tell me. “I’d attack people, and ostracize them.” He has seen that “the more you stress people, the more they’re going to use. The more you de-stress people, the less they’re going to use. So to create a system where you ostracize and marginalize and criminalize people, and force them to live in poverty with disease, you are basically guaranteeing they will stay at it.”
This isn’t new stuff. Or radical stuff. I’ve been saying similar things for years…
“As anyone who has tried to quit smoking knows, dependence is hardest to overcome during difficult or stressful times. That must be why, when the government helps drug abusers quit, they arrest them and take away their job, possessions, and children.” – Guitherisms
But it’s a discussion that we absolutely need to bring to the front, because understanding and accepting these basic truths are what gives us harm reduction rather than prohibition, sane policy rather than insanity.