A Few Thoughts about Addiction & Society

By JC

I was going to post this as a comment on Skink’s previous post, The Negative Impacts of Alcohol Abuse, but it grew so much, I decided to promote it to its own post. Prerogatives of a blogger! 😉

“Instead we have a stagnant economy teetering on the edge of another collapse with the resultant desire to temporarily escape this harsh reality with booze. — William Skink”

I’d like to be optimistic and offer a simple solution, but if a solution to the problems of economic oppression and inequality were easy, it would have been accomplished long ago. Sometimes the sheer force of anger and outrage have fueled revolutions to amazing change! But our current corrupt crony capitalist political system has effectively repressed dissidence.

Unfortunately, the desire to “temporarily escape” this harsh reality has metastasized to a desire to permanently escape, hence the huge numbers of suicides in our country I posted the other day — 41,000 in 2013. And booze is just one drug among many for the escapist crowd. Drunken and drugged behavior is just a symptom of far greater problems, most of which are economic and cultural. And many addicts refer to their despair as “slow suicide” resulting in well over 100,000 deaths per year from the effects of their addiction.

I have to take exception with a few of the comments I saw on Skink’s post. The first is that to speculate that addiction or alcoholism is an expression of genetic traits is to ignore a large body of emerging evidence (Carl Hart epitomizes this new approach) that states otherwise. While genetics can provide a predisposition to addiction, it is not indicative or predictive. What is more indicative is stress in the family during early childhood or during pregnancy. Combine the two and you have the makings for greatly increased incidence of addiction.

Also, while the notion of addiction as a disease is a very good one in certain ways when devising treatment modalities, it has its detractions in many areas. While I’d like to get into that discussion, I’ll leave it for another day, as it is huge.

And next, with the topic of taxation to fund services, I think that a careful analysis of the situation will reveal many things. First off, I tend to agree with Rob (horrors!) that taxing businesses is the wrong way to go. If we have to tax a business for providing a service that has huge social costs — and there are many businesses that could qualify (like gun sellers, pharmacists, gas stations, etc. — maybe we best look at not permitting certain businesses at all. We could solve global warming by banning gas refineries or taxing them out of existence, but a carbon tax on energy would be a much better solution.

And like the argument with almond growers utilizing far too much water in california, if industrial uses of water were taxed appropriately, then the true costs of certain industries come more into a reasonable balance with the rights of individuals to have access to water (even the Pope just stated that water is a basic human — not industrial — right).

Studies have shown that raising taxes on cigarettes or gasoline reduce their consumption. So taxes on alcohol could be increased to reduce consumption. That doesn’t solve the problem, but if the taxes were directed at prevention and treatment solutions, that would help. It would have a disparate effect on poor people, as addicts tend to find the resources (legally and illegally) needed to maintain their habits. A marijuana tax could be similarly effective for regulating use and providing prevention/treatment services, as well as looking at funding legitimate research into medical uses.

A legal industry does not create the addict. One just needs to look at heroin or cocaine addiction to realize that. Bars and liquor stores do not create alcoholics. Prohibition taught us that where theres a will, there’s a way.

But the problem with Rob’s idea that all of society should collectively fund treatment will never fly as the morality issue of conservatives will never be won, and therefore the funding for treatment will always fly in a political/moral breeze, and doesn’t address root causes. Better that we realize that the sources of addiction — economic oppression, cultural issues (war mentality, belittling the poor, family violence — and work to change them. As we make those changes, the prevalence of addiction will diminish, and society as a whole will benefit. Of course, as with the anti-science bent (climate deniers) of many politicians, even critical peer-reviews science doesn’t guarantee proper political action.

As Gabor Mate brilliantly noted, if addiction is to be seen as a social issue, then we as a society become morally responsible to make the needed changes to reduce the conditions that breed addiction.

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9 Responses to A Few Thoughts about Addiction & Society

  1. Rob Kailey says:

    And I agree with you, JC (horrors!) on all points, some which may need clarification. 1) Bringing up genetics is not an attempt to say that we can cure addiction with a pill. Nor was that my focus. My point was, as you expand here very well, that treating addiction and mental health in general as a moral issue to be controlled through behavioral coercion (personal economics) is a terrific way to lay blame and avoid personally dealing with the problem at all. 2) I’m well aware that treating mental health as a societal issue and not a moral one simply won’t fly … now. But given enough time society might just come around. The cynic in me says ‘then again maybe it won’t’. After all, we still make cultural, class and ultimately moral judgments about people with bad teeth. 3) Societal responsibility is at the heart of the ethical argument for single payer health coverage. Regardless of what any assume about me, I do consider SP to be the only extant evidence that we have become a civilized culture. As you note, a culture that celebrates worth based on economic condition won’t and likely can’t “become morally responsible to make the needed changes to reduce the conditions that breed addiction.” I would simply add, ‘or any other mental health affliction that causes harm in our society as we desire it to be’.

    I would like to thank you, sincerely, for actually dealing with what I wrote and not assuming my motives or agenda in your post. I mean that.

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  2. in Missoula, economics is the motivator. jail and the ER are very expensive. and unfortunately it’s going to be the fiscally conservative argument that will hopefully compel our community to do some common sense things that will better serve people struggling with addiction and mental health issues.

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    • Rob Kailey says:

      Something that doctrine Democrats miss: most hardline Libertarians are also in favor of single payer health care for precisely the reason you state. You’ve noted that before, Lizard.

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    • JC says:

      In the micro, the evidence that will motivate fiscal conservatives to do something may eventually breed awareness of the macro situation. The goal for the rest of us is to propose and advocate positive solutions in our home towns (which I know you do, admirably!). I fully embrace harm reduction policies in our communities as we work to improve both the lot of our disadvantage citizens, and our pocketbooks as taxpayers and business owners.

      I would like to redefine trickle down to when we tackle and solve the macro problems of capitalism and societal decay, the benefits trickle down to everyone in the guise of healthier communities, reduced tax burdens, and greater freedom and liberty. I just don’t happen to believe that solutions paid for by corporations (via political campaigns) are necessarily going to do it, i.e. favoring corporations and the rich, in the faulty belief they are the only “job creators” worth paying attention to.

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      • Big Swede says:

        A Sanders 90% top rate should solve your “capitalist” and “societal decay” problems.

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        • JC says:

          Last time the top rate was 90% was under Eisenhower. I thought you like the white picket fences economy of the 50s. Seemed to do wonders for the middle class then… why not now?

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    • Bob Williams says:

      Right on! My parsing reads:
      the fiscally conservative arguments that will actually impel community members
      . . . . . . to do common sense things et al.

      hmm. I thought the original Post seemed naturally composed, cohesive and directional.

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  3. somehow we’re having a pretty good, productive conversation. thanks y’all!

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  4. Pingback: The thirteenth step | Piece Of Mind

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