Someone forwarded this article to me recently from the New York Times and it hit a nerve.
It is a commonly held position that drug users are ‘hooked’ and that it is the drug that creates the hook. The user becomes addicted because of the properties of the drug. So the cry is then for prohibition to address the problem by removing the drug. In Carl Hart’s book, “High Price” he develops the idea that the primary problem is not the drug but the fact that the addict has no alternatives.
There can be little doubt that Cocaine, methamphetamine and Alcohol are addictive. But before addiction there is habituation. The user, the individual, becomes used to using. Gains a momentary escape from their problems, stresses and enters an alternative world where there is a little bit of pleasure. What reason do they have to stop? Taking the drug away just concentrates the mind of the user on getting the drug and they take action to achieve that result. Hence the stealing to fund the habit.
For anyone stopping a habit is difficult. For people with no alternatives it can be extraordinarily more difficult. We all know that bad habits are addictive. They can ruin your health — both mentally and physically. They are destructive. And that is where drug misuse sits: a destructive bad habit.
But the experts tell us that it is very difficult to eliminate a bad habit it is far more efficient to replace it. For many people who smoke there is an automatic association with drink so common advice is: don’t go to the bar. In other words, remove the trigger that starts the bad habit. It is more difficult to stop smoking if the people around you smoke. People misusing drugs often have nothing to replace the drug and are in environments and with people that encourage the habit. They have no alternatives.
Another strongly recommended way of defeating a bad habit is to tell your friends and family about what you’re trying to do. For instance, successful dieting is difficult if your spouse is constantly trying to give you a second helping; because he/she does not know what you are trying to do. Dieting in secret is extraordinarily difficult, so the advice is to pair up with someone and quit together. The two of you can hold each other accountable and celebrate your victories together. Knowing that someone else expects you to be better is a powerful motivator.
I wonder if we could all change our approach to workplace drug testing. The stats say that most people using drugs are employed. They have not reached the stage of total addiction but maybe could do with some help to break the habit? A workplace drug testing programme that ensures the drug user gets support before dismissal becomes inevitable would be a really valuable help. No one can break a habit in secret.