The latest approach to dealing with drug abuse in America is touted by Donald Trump as a need to get very tough on drug dealers to the point of executing them. Looking back over the years, the war on drugs has not been very effective. It seems the harder we try, the worse the problem gets. Maybe the problem is the approach we are taking. We are considering it from the supply point of view rather than that of demand.
Look at it this way. If no one wanted or needed illegal drugs, it would not matter how many drugs were available. An interesting thought, but not one many people have considered. What would it take for everyone to lose interest in drugs? We have concentrated on the physically addictive nature of drugs as being the main problem. But what about other addictions which do not involve chemical effects? Consider gambling, food, sex, pornography and video games. All of these have a gripping effect on people’s lives although the bond is psychological rather than chemical.
Johann Hari looked at studies with rats to explore chemical addiction. When the studies were redone with rats under various conditions, it became clear that they became and remained addicted in a state of social isolation. Yet in a stimulating environment most did not become addicted and most of those who became addicted in a deprived environment left their addiction behind when placed in a stimulating environment. He concluded that social deprivation had a great influence on their becoming and staying addicted.
Projects with addicts such as one in Portugal showed that decriminalization of drug abuse and helping the addicted to become socially connected cut the addiction rate in half compared to addicts who were treated like criminals. For more on Hari’s study, see his article in Alternet.
The Foundation for a Drug Free World lists six reasons young people give for taking drugs:
- To fit in
- To escape or relax
- To relieve boredom
- To seem grown up
- To rebel
- To experiment
Many of these likely apply to adults as well. To my mind they also reflect the lack of connection to others suggested by Hari. Blaming people for their drug abuse does not help them change. It only gives them another reason to feel alienated. We have seen the failure of our war on drugs. Intensifying it will not make anything any better in our culture. It’s time to pay attention to the struggles of those in the grip of drugs or at risk for becoming involved. We can help them feel connected as an alternative to being addicted.
On a larger scale, it is clear that our society has been fractured into camps leaving people on both sides feeling at war with each other. Fanning the flames of discord will only intensify our feeling of alienation from each other. It’s time that we learn to listen to each other, find the value in each person and help each other become the best we can be.