Should Drug Reform and Rehabilitation Focus on Prevention?

Should Drug Reform and Rehabilitation Focus on Prevention?


Sometimes I believe that the war on drugs that focuses on the idea that prevention can solve everything is a bit misguided.

The Hill says that “Life expectancy in the United States dropped for the second year in a row due in large part to the 21 percent rise in drug overdose deaths to a whopping 63,600. That’s a staggering number that equates to 174 deaths everyday.”

So the idea is that it is really, really difficult to treat and “fix” addiction once it has started. The easier path is to put those dollars into prevention efforts, so that you cut the problem off right at the head. Don’t let the addiction spiral into all of those burdensome costs to society by investing up front in kids and teens so that they don’t “turn to the dark side.”

While this sounds great in theory, my experience shows me that this is not an ideal that is worth pursuing. At least it wasn’t for me.

I was a kid in the eighties and a teen in the nineties and therefore I was exposed to a pretty significant prevention program in school that was called D.A.R.E. The idea was to scare kids away from using drugs or alcohol.

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It didn’t work. Not only did the program fail as a whole, but I later decided that experimenting with drugs sounded like a good idea, in spite of these prevention efforts.

Now I realize that there are other ways to run a prevention program rather than to use scare tactics which have been proven to be ineffective.

However, I still feel as if my particular case somehow proves, at least to me, that prevention efforts will always be futile.

Why? Because I had no reason to self medicate. I had no great plight in life, I had no great struggle, and there was no reason for me to want to escape. And yet at some point, just like most people in the world, I eventually stumbled on a drink or a drug that suddenly caught my fancy–and I was off to the races.

I wasn’t made into an addict–instead, it was love at first sight. The first time I took a drink or a drug I knew that I was hooked. I was born an addict, and it just took several years until I would actually discover the substances themselves.

My fear is that most addicts and alcoholics out there–or perhaps all of them–are just like me in that they were doomed to eventually pick up a drink or a drug at some point in their life. It was not a matter of if, but a matter of when.

And the prevention approach to substance abuse makes a pretty big assumption. The assumption made is that it is actually a matter of “if,” meaning that they are hoping to thwart the person from ever becoming an addict in the first place through the prevention effort. And my experience is that it would not have mattered, you could have skirted me around my first drink of booze, you could have somehow shielded me from the first joint that I smoked, and it would not have mattered one bit in the end–addiction was going to find me. The addiction was inside of me and it was just waiting for an outlet. When I finally took a drink of alcohol and smoked some marijuana my addiction found a way to manifest itself. Even if I had completely avoided all addictive substances for my entire life (not likely for anyone!) I believe that my addiction still would have manifested in some other way–food, sex, gambling, video games, something.

In other words, the problem as I see it is that some people are born with a disease of addiction, and at some point in their life that disease is going to manifest itself. There is no stopping this from happening because the seed is already there, it is already planted. This is why I have such a negative view of prevention efforts, because I honestly believe that those efforts are only effective for people who really did not need the effort anyway. In other words, for the person who is actually born with addiction inside of them, no amount of prevention efforts are going to really be effective in the long run. Their addiction will eventually manifest at some point regardless.

This is my opinion, and I could very well be wrong. But my experience and my observations with others tell me that this is close to the truth–that there are certain people in the world who are born addicts and they have to eventually fall into their addiction before they can eventually find recovery.

One analogy might be the flu shot–sure, it can prevent the flu in many cases, but even if we push the flu shot as hard as we can to the public, people still get the flu every year. So we still have to treat the flu regardless, just as we still have to “fix” addiction after it manifests.

I think that some policy makers have the idea that we should wipe the slate clean when it comes to addicts and alcoholics and just focus on prevention efforts instead. One huge problem with this approach, however, is that addiction and alcoholism can be quite cyclical. Meaning that people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol tend to influence their children to become addicts and alcoholics as well. Therefore the prevention efforts are going to fall short anyway when it comes to teaching families how to live a healthy life, because the children and teens are already seeing a poor example at home and the prevention effort that they get at school is going to be “overridden” in a sense.

In other words, it is not realistic to think that we can just wipe the slate clean and start fresh with a new batch of young people who can then be “trained” to not become addicted. This is not realistic on a whole different number of levels, and unfortunately it sounds like such a neat and tidy idea that the idea of prevention persists.

Drug addiction and alcoholism are big and complex problems that affect many different areas of a person’s life, and also many different aspects of society as a whole. It would be a nice surprise if prevention efforts were highly effective, but the reality is that in spite of some prevention efforts we still have the problem of addiction and alcoholism to deal with.

Treatment may be expensive and not 100 percent effective either, but at that stage of the game it is still our best option. I think it is a mistake to direct too much funding into prevention and out of treatment services, because I believe there is always going to be a need for treatment. I also believe that prevention in its current form is of very limited usefulness.

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