Addiction is not Illness

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The excellent Theodore Dalrymple has a comprehensive answer to this Herald nonsense that addicts are victims of illness who should not be “stigmatised” as the nutty editorial puts it.   Flat-out compulsion is the way to stop them & the government plan is a good first step.

This from an earlier 2007 Dalrymple demolition of the wet liberal detox myths:

Drug-addiction services have also grown massively. In our society, every problem calls forth its equal and supposedly opposite bureaucracy, the ostensible purpose of which is to solve the problem.

But the bureaucracy quickly develops a survival instinct, and so no more wishes the problem to disappear altogether than the lion wishes to kill all the gazelle in the bush and leave itself without food.

In short, the bureaucracy of drug addiction needs drug addicts far more than drug addicts need the bureaucracy of drug addiction.

The propaganda, assiduously spread for many years now, is that heroin addiction is an “illness”. This view serves the interests both of the addicts who wish to continue their habit while placing the blame for their behaviour elsewhere, and the bureaucracy that wishes to continue in employment, preferably for ever and at higher rates of pay.

Viewing addiction as an illness automatically implies there is a medical solution to it. So, when all the proposed “cures” fail to work, addicts blame not themselves but those who have offered them ineffectual solutions.

And for bureaucracies, nothing succeeds like failure. The Government spends more than a quarter of a billion pounds a year on drug treatment in the UK, despite there being little evidence of any reduction in the number of addicts.

Since the bureaucratic solution to waste is to waste even more, you don’t have to be Nostradamus to predict that funding in Britain will continue to rise.

Now people might say, “What the fuck would he know?”…well this is how:

I see up to 20 new cases a day in prison ? I began to think about it more. The medical perspective, that these people were ill and in need of treatment, seemed less and less convincing.

I discovered that most addicted prisoners stopped taking heroin in jail, even when it was available. They came into the prison starving and miserable, and went out relatively healthy.

But within a few months, many were back in their former condition, and when brought once more before the courts, some would beg to be imprisoned.

When, soon after their return, I asked them whether they intended to give up taking heroin, some would reply: “I’ll have to, I’ve got no choice.”

Asked why, they would offer replies such as: “Because my girlfriend’s just had a baby and she won’t let me see it unless I do.”

This answer was a strange one if these addicts truly thought of themselves as ill and in need of treatment. #

Instead, they clearly believed a purpose in life was enough to enable them to abstain. This is not how pneumonia, for instance, is cured.

No one would say: “I must stop having pleuritic pain each time I breathe deeply because I have just had a baby.” Yet the medical services allow addicts to focus exclusively on the physiological aspects of addiction, which in practice means the prescription of a drug such as methadone.

There is a strenuous, almost outraged, rejection of the idea that addiction is, at bottom, a moral problem, or even that it raises any moral questions at all.

That is a very good point.

Of course, addiction to heroin and other opiates has serious medical consequences. I often saw addicts with deep vein thromboses or multiple abscesses; they would have TB; they would be malnourished and infected with Hepatitis B or C, or both, and HIV.

It would be difficult to obtain blood from the veins in their arms or legs because they had injected so often.

But medical consequences do not make a disease. Many mountaineers get frostbite, but mountaineering is not a disease.

To conceive of heroin addiction as such seems to me to miss the fundamental point: it is a moral or spiritual condition that will never yield to medical treatment.

Hugs and cuddle probably won’t work either.

All powers of self-control are destroyed by heroin, and unless they take a substitute drug, such as methadone, or enter a lengthy rehabilitation programme, addicts cannot give up.

They are hooked for life and need help ? from the drug-addiction bureaucracy.

There is only a tiny grain of truth in all this. That physiological addiction exists is indisputable. But in practically all other respects the standard view is wrong, a masterpiece of rhetorical tricks.

It is to heroin addicts what Marxism was to the Politburo of the former Soviet Union: a systematic pseudo-scientific justification for everything they do.

The orthodox view is self-serving for addicts because it implies no possibility of self-control and so no blame.

What, perhaps, is more surprising is that many doctors, therapists and social workers swallow such nonsense. The truth is people who are genuinely exposed to strong opiates by chance, such as after an operation, rarely become addicted to them.

We saw that sentiment in the Herald editorial. “But, but, but”, the crim hugger will say, “what about withdrawal?”

Nor are the withdrawal symptoms from heroin anywhere as terrible as normally painted. In the popular conception, going “cold turkey” is dreadful beyond all description, involving cramps, insomnia, vomiting, shaking and sweating.

But not a single addict has ever caused me as a doctor to feel anxiety for his safety on account of his withdrawal.

And all the genuine symptoms, which are never severe, such as muscular aching, diarrhoea, crying, sneezing and insomnia, have been relieved by simple, non-opiate medication.

Certainly, most withdrawing addicts have portrayed themselves to me as being in the grip of dreadful suffering.

They writhe in agony, claiming they have experienced nothing as bad in their lives, and they make all kinds of threats if I do not prescribe “something” ? they mean an opiate ? to alleviate their suffering.

The threats range from damaging their cells to killing themselves, others or even me. (Withdrawing alcoholics never make such threats.)

In fact, heroin addicts rarely carry out their threats. Those who say they are suicidal quickly admit they were merely trying to get methadone when I suggest they be put in a cell so bare that there is nowhere from which to suspend a noose.

My counter-threat produces in most cases the most miraculous improvement in their mood.

Not all the addicts I see exaggerate in this fashion. Some admit with a laugh that anyone who says cold turkey is terrible is lying and more than likely trying to bluff his way to getting methadone.

It is refreshing to see such honesty from someone in the medical profession.

Who would have thought that Mao Zedong would have cured more heorin addicts than all the doctors of the world combined:

The great glory of withdrawal agony, from a career point of view, is that where suffering exists, it is necessary to employ more and more doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers and counsellors to relieve it.

Yet consider what happened in China after Mao took power in 1949. At the time, China had more opiate addicts than the rest of the world put together ? about 20million.

But Mao gave them a strong motive to give up: he shot the dealers and any addicts who did not give up their habit.

Within three years, Mao produced more cures than all the drug clinics in the world before or since, or indeed to come. He was, indeed, the greatest drug worker in history.

The point of this story is not to advocate a repetition of Mao’s methods. It is to demonstrate that, when a motive is sufficiently strong, many millions of addicted people can abandon their addiction without the paraphernalia of help considered necessary today.

Right, I think we can safely ignore the carping of the liberal panty-waists now.


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

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