How to Prevent Addiction Most Effectively
27 February 2014
I have been working in the field of addiction related services for 16 years. Throughout this period, I have had to analyse my own attitudes towards what is right or wrong. Let me explain the challenge I face. In my first job, I provided support to drug addicted people who were in the process of moving from homelessness to supported housing. Heroin, Cocaine, Cannabis, etc. are illegal drugs and the way the users fund their habit was mostly illegal (prostitution, thieving, begging…). On top of this they used many other substances including alcohol and prescribed medicine. With my values, I was asking myself why all these illegal things were so much part of the everyday life of my clients. How could they live in absolute contradiction with my own values? How could I love and support them to take positive steps? Throughout these years I have been asking myself: What are the key issues in the structures of the society that prevent addiction and help a person in a process of recovery?
I hear the argument that one should decriminalise certain drugs so that the person using them is not criminalised but they could safely search support for their addiction. I am afraid I do not believe that this is the answer. Alcohol is a legal substance and people still do not recognise they have a problem and that they would need help. There are many Blue Cross services where a person can go to receive support without being criminalised. Then the next argument is to legalise drug production so that illegal markets could be removed. Well, the fact that the alcohol industry produces legally, does not reduce the misuse of alcohol either. I know, I am simplifying an issue which is very complex. I noticed that this world of drugs was another world and the most important thing was not to fall into it. For those who managed to get out of this circle, it was a most challenging task to learn the rules of a different society. I believe we need strong policies that announce boundaries around these issues. Control is necessary as well as laws on price, availability, production, taxes, etc., but they can be only successful if the aim of the policy is to protect vulnerable people.
I want to say a couple of words about alcohol and cannabis addiction as it has been hot in a public debate at the moment. In both cases it is proven that the use of alcohol and cannabis is especially harmful for young people. It is proven in both cases that early use is very likely to develop addiction. Even occasional use may create addiction in young people. So, instead of making things more complicated and considering legalisation, why can’t we focus on this FACT. If we could prevent young people from using these substances the number of addicts would reduce dramatically in the long run. I hear the saying that young people are adventurous and they need to be allowed to test things. Well, why can we not encourage them to wait until they are 18? We definitely know that it is harmful to use alcohol, let alone cannabis, so we should, by legislation and good structures in our communities, protect the young population. As adults we can do this by changing attitudes. Smoking is no longer cool, we have succeeded with this. Do we want to succeed with reducing alcohol addiction? And if smoking is bad, surely we understand that cannabis is far worse with all its effects on the nervous system.
I said in the beginning that I had to learn to separate two worlds, that of drug issues and that of the people who need love and support and who need to be encouraged to make the right decisions. Once any drug is legal, people need to understand the reasoning behind and use it adequately. Sometimes I think we understand the dangers of giving too many vitamins or too much paracetamol to our children but we do not seem to take it as seriously about alcohol or cannabis. I want to encourage you to assess the structures and policies in your local setting. If something needs to be said, use your voice whether it is at home, work or in the lobbying forums. We must protect young people to separate the two worlds so that they can knowingly choose a life free of addiction!
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