I have a huge secret that is not really a secret. I am an Intervention addict. A&E’s show about drug addicts, their families, and the process designed to save their lives, is one of my favorite shows. Coupled with my love of documentaries and love of any and all forms of pulp inspired media, Intervention is the perfect storm for binge watching sessions, strewn with candy wrappers and empty coffee cups. Since Intervention is making its comeback, I’ve watched a couple episodes and revisited some of my favorite addicts. Clearly, this is a little sick but it seems that a lot of people have a similar interest. My renewed interest in the show coupled with an article The Atlantic ran about the failings of Alcoholics Anonymous got me thinking about the current state of addiction and addiction treatment here in America.
Human beings have experimented with using substances to alter consciousness since the dawn of time. It is a natural, normal human instinct. It is beyond the scope of any man-made laws that human beings will be curious to “get fucked up”. It seems that the most rational and logical approach of any government should be heed this fact of human behavior, and instead of making mind alteration wholesale illegal, govern how and where adults can use substances. Clearly, governments cannot responsibly allow children to experiment with mind altering substances due to their decreased capacity for responsible behavior and the fact that their brains are not fully developed. However, adults can make decisions about what they put in their bodies and live with the consequences.
The status-quo has fully failed at achieving any and all positive effects of regulation of drug use among human beings. Drugs that have been legislated to an illegal status are incredibly easy to get, children are using drugs because of the lack of regulation, and the strength of certain drugs has increased during the time of American narcotic prohibition. The policy of drug prohibition that the United States has ushered in has clearly failed miserably in terms of preventing people from using narcotic substances.
When the United States attempted to make alcohol illegal, it could be reasonably claimed that this was one of the first achievements of American feminism. The temperance movement was motivated in a large way by feminist women who saw the destructive potential of alcohol play out in their daily domestic lives by way of their husbands coming home from a long day’s labor in unregulated and dangerous factories, drinking, and getting violent. Some women looked at this problem and missed that alcohol was a symptom of the problem instead of the illness itself. If the men were paid better, in better conditions, then they probably would drink less because their lives would be less miserable and they would have less to be angry about. However, instead of working for corporate reform, the feminists took to making alcohol their big enemy. Unfortunately, alcohol was successfully made illegal and as a result, the first modern American crime wave of the 1920’s swept up American cities into a blitzkrieg of bullets and booze.
Shortly after this time Alcoholics Anonymous was born. What could be attributed as a divine vision by way of the psychedelic substance Atropa belladonna, one of the world’s most intense and notoriously hard to come by psychedelic drugs, a man named Bill Wilson who was in the throes of an alcoholic pit of distress, came up with Alcoholics Anonymous during a detox in 1934. It is extremely ironic that Wilson came up with an alternative to the pattern of addictive behavior by way of alcohol while under the influence of a hallucinogenic drug, one that was actually being administered experimentally to addicts to cure addiction (this concept is currently being experimented with concerning the drug Ibogaine and it’s capacity to treat heroin addiction, though this is not legal in the United States). So, a man stoned on one of the most powerful psychedelic substances on Earth came up with the treatment revered by the American medical establishment to treat one of the world’s most mysterious illnesses that involved no scientific study or backing. And we’re surprised that this isn’t completely working to treat alcohol addiction.
A lot of people want to blame addicts and shame them. Americans get off on public humiliation, something we see daily with supermarket tabloids pointing out “Celebrity XYZ’s 394,953 trip to REHAB!!!!!”. We want to say “Look it, look at that, look at that freak who can’t stay sober” and then feel good because we can get through our day sober, miserable as though we might be. This happens all the time, hearing about a certain celebrity having great issue with substance abuse problems. But the problem is a lot less cute when it happens to a friend, or a family member, or even ourselves. Then it becomes, good lord why is this so hard? Why is the treatment offered so inadequate? Why does everyone treat me like a pariah, like I did this to myself, like I asked for this disease?
I have a friend who struggles with substance abuse issues. In his early 20s he used a lot of cocaine. He was an angry, powerful young man with too much pain looking to not feel for as long as the drugs would allow him. After a tragic physical injury, a doctor looked at the state of the condition of his body and concluded that he had “destroyed” his body with cocaine. This doctor told my friend that he was extremely disappointed in him, was disgusted, and would no longer be treating him. He treated my friend, who carried so much emotional pain with him, like human garbage.
There is a psyche within the American mind that addicts are people separate from the rest of us. That by a certain age, a person knows if they are or not an alcoholic and that this is somehow set in stone. This is wholly untrue and a national delusion. Any person can become an addict at any time in their life. This is a fact. It literally can happen to anyone. People think that one has to be around drugs in order to do them, that illegal narcotics must be a facet of your life in order to be an addict. Not true. Prescription pills are now many addicts drug of choice rather than street narcotics. It is very, very easy to become an addict in this society. It is a very, very dangerous tendency then to associate morality with sobriety.
People are suffering due to this. Addicts, their families, their friends, and their communities are all suffering because of this superiority complex Americans have when it comes to the disease of addiction. Justifying AA as a treatment for alcoholism when it is not based in science is irreparably irresponsible of the medical establishment.
We must start having as much compassion for addicts as we do for cancer victims. We must start taking addiction treatment as seriously as we take heart disease treatment. We must see drug addicts with the same compassion we see AIDS victims with. Unless we stop the sickness of equating morality with sobriety, we’re still going to be stone drunk on our own misguided and misdirected ill informed knowledge about addiction which has clearly harmed our society far more than it has helped it.