After several blog posts where I have explained how profoundly detrimental today’s drug laws are and how legalization could work, it feels important to write something about addiction treatment after such a paradigm shift.
The question is: what kind of addiction treatment do we want to see in the future? But before I go into that, I first want to say something about addiction and addicts.
What is addiction?
I define addiction as something compulsive where the person despite serious negative consequences is not capable of changing their behaviour. Addiction is often surrounded by a lack of awareness about ones problems, or an unwillingness to face them.
Note that such a definition can be applied to very many things in life, not only substances. It is common for people to abuse relationships, sex, games, television or food, just to name a few. It is especially important to emphasize that addiction is never inherent to what is being abused, but is something in the addict him/herself.
When people talk about substance abuse in the public debate, it is easy to get the idea that the substance is the cause of addiction, because as soon as anyone uses an illegal substance they are seen as addicts. That is a profoundly erroneous notion that hinders a sensible understanding and good care. Anyone who has sex is not a sex addict. Similarly, not everyone who smokes cannabis is a drug addict. If there is no compulsive behaviour and serious negative consequences, they are merely using the substance. Sending a cannabis user to treatment is as stupid as treating someone who has a healthy relationship with food for bulimia.
The addiction is always in the person. We relieve addiction by helping people to heal their problems, not by chasing substances. If we manage to remove the substance without solving the underlying problem, then the addiction will simply jump and start using another substance or any other area of life. Then nothing is won, because the process of freeing oneself starts over.
What makes an addict?
One can probably find many features that characterize addicts, but these are two that I have seen in all addicts I’ve met.
Fleeing. Behind the addiction is a fear of meeting something within oneself or in the surrounding. It can often be such things as old traumas, abuse, problematic upbringing, shame or guilt. There may also be a fear of actually being as good as one can be. In such cases the abuse becomes a self-sabotage, which is also a way to flee, even if it is from a situation that is potentially better than the one the person is in.
Loss of control. This is the compulsive aspect that I talked about earlier. The situation has spiralled out of control. However, I think that it is incorrect to say that the drugs or someone else has taken control. All power in a person’s life originates from that person. If anything or anyone else is in power, it is because the person has given it away, but often that is not the case. Instead the power is still there but is not being used. Regardless of which, the long term solution is to rediscover and exercise power in one’s life; that is to reintroduce control.
But moving on to addiction treatment.
I want as many people as possible get the help they need to recover from addiction. That is not happening today. Instead the support that is being given is often contradictory, since society stigmatizes addicts and prevents or even sabotages the recovery process.
Education. The best prevention* that I can think of is to give young people the tools to deal with difficult situations, resolve trauma and rid themselves of such issues that might make them want to flee. We need to start working on personal development, so that we can identify and deal with the reasons why people want to flee from themselves. When there is no longer a need to flee, the fleeing will stop.
Our society works quite differently today. We learn to avoid that which scares us, rather than to face and deal with it. We prefer to distract or sedate ourselves rather than facing the discomfort. Antidepressant medication is a typical example of this, as it puts the lid on the symptoms instead of curing the cause. I’m not saying that antidepressants are never needed. They can be a very valuable emergency response, but the prolonged mass medication that we see today is a direct result of people not having the tools to deal with the unpleasantness that they encounter in life.
Addiction treatment. I want to see addiction treatment that is much more accessible and less stigmatizing than the one we have today. Reaching out for help should be a small step and help should be available to anyone who seeks it. The aim of treatment should primarily be to tackle the root causes of the addiction and since it is a disease it should be financed within the health care system, but should include more methods of treatment than those available today.
* By preventative work I do not mean to discourage people from using substances. I mean to prepare people to face life in such a way that they do not need to use substances to flee from themselves and thereby end up in an addiction.
Main photo: The Help by Marina del Castell on Flickrby