In the last decade, we’ve come a long way towards understanding addiction. Once thought of as an immoral issue associated with weak-willed persons, now most people view addiction as a disease that’s progressive in nature, delusional in thinking, and maladaptive to behavior.
Addicted persons are our parents, siblings, spouses, friends, doctors, lawyers, firefighters, pilots, teachers, servers, laborers, and everyone else who makes up the workforce. Most addicted persons have homes and those who don’t, have the streets.
The streets in some big cities have become a refuge to addicted persons. There are many resources available to them there; housing, medical attention, free needles, consumption tents to inject IV drugs, free clothing, shelters to sleep, etc.
There are more resources available to addicted persons now than ever before, and yet addiction continues to explode in our population. Some of this is due to doctors overprescribing oxycodone, and the resulting heroin addiction afterward.
But not every substance abuser started with prescription medication. Many began experimenting in high school with their friends and because their brains were still developing and vulnerable to chemical influence, became addicted.
Researchers have found that much of addiction’s power lies in its ability to hijack and destroy key brain regions that are meant to help us survive. The brains’ pleasure center becomes hijacked, and critical thinking reroutes through the old brain, the part of the brain responsible for our survival. This part of the brain screams, ‘get dope or die!’
In spite of our many advances, addition continues to outwit us all. Science says addiction overrides a person’s reasoning and impulse control. We’re told addicts must hit rock bottom. Yet for many, rock bottom is in a casket. Our policy is persons with addiction must admit they need help before they can get treatment and ultimately, survive their illness. Controversially, we know addicted persons are delusional and incapable of rational thinking.
So which is it?
Persons with addiction must come to their senses in a moment of clarity (this debunks the disease model) and agree to get help.
Or
Persons with addiction will continue to grow progressively sicker (this upholds the disease model) as they’re incapable of reasoning and making sound decisions.
If we truly believe addiction is a progressive and terminal disease which renders persons incapable of making sound decisions then why aren’t we following up with mandated treatment? Every time someone overdoses, why are they let go (where they go right back to using and often overdose again) instead of getting transferred into a rehab facility,
Speaking with the addicted population on the street, they tell me they have a disease. It’s not their fault. I agree. It’s not. I think back to the days when I was addicted. Tolerance for my poor choices wasn’t very high back then. Instead, I heard – you need help, go to rehab, for God’s sakes pick yourself up. No one told me I had a disease. No one offered me free needles. There were no consumptions sites, or free using kits. The message I got was loud and clear – I needed help, and living my life in the gutter was not tolerated.
I’m 21 years clean and sober now, and as I look around at all the ‘help’ and resources available to addicted persons today, I can’t help but thank God I got clean/sober when I did. Tolerance for me killing myself was not in my best interest. I was already killing myself, and I didn’t need society to enable me in that process.
As I look around at the ever-growing numbers of addicted persons, I’m left to wonder if we as a society have turned a corner becoming so compassionate that we play a part in encouraging addiction. It’s an absurd idea and yet one I can’t shake.
While nobody wakes up and says ‘I’m going to be an addict’ there is one decision addicted persons make and that’s how long they’ll stay sick. While addiction may not be a choice, recovery is.
Perhaps as a society, our compassion could do more than give out free needles and more shelter beds. For severely addicted persons who have lost the ability to reason and can’t fight for their lives, their best chance at survival is mandated, long-term treatment followed by a sober living environment and outpatient continuum of care. Yes, it’s going to cost a terrific amount of money. But if you factor in the cost of reducing the harmful impact addiction has on communities, the price is already high. And most importantly, every single person struggling with addiction can be well. Ask any parent with an addicted child if we should put a dollar value on saving lives, and their answer will be no.
So the next time you hear about another consumption site coming to your town, ask questions. What about treatment? Do you encourage people to seek help? I recently asked one harm reduction worker this, and she said, “I don’t talk to clients about recovery. It’s not in my job description. I’m there to prevent overdose.’ While preventing overdose is an important factor, after all, dead addicts can’t recover, we must insist on more than palliative care which keeps end-stage addicts comfortable in their illness.
We’re all affected by addiction. We’re all doing the best we can. Sadly our best is not helping. It’s time to step out of what we’ve been doing and try something new. I’d like to see mandated treatment laws in every state and province across North America. What are your thoughts on this topic?

(c) 2014 Jagged Little Edges All Rights Reserved

Leave a Reply

2 comments

  1. C E Taylor

    I could not agree more! If we spent the same amount of money on mandated treatment that we spend on the inmates that are locked up for drug abuse crimes we could prevent them from ending up back in jail!!

  2. I’ve gotten alot out of this. I have to keep telling myself this is a disease.