Addiction has been the source of wide-ranging societal and private problems and has been linked with excessive drug and alcohol use, sex, and crime.
People struggling with addiction have been stigmatized for many decades, and thousands have been imprisoned and even killed due to their chemical substance abuse issues. But is addiction a crime or mental disorder?
While it is true that wrong choices and faulty behavior play a large role in addiction, medical health professionals now believe the problem is as much of a mental disorder as it is behavioral. In fact, the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) says that addiction is a chronic brain disorder, and the current crackdown of law enforcement and anti-drug agencies will only worsen the problem if addicts are not given medical assistance.
The underlying cause of addiction exists in the brain, and its manifestation is the many social ills such as drug abuse, excessive alcohol consumption, sex, and criminal activities, and not the other way round.
Advances in the field of neurosciences in the last 30 years have brought to fore new breakthroughs into the workings of the brain and how it affects addiction. Now, addiction is recognized as a primary disease, which can be chronic in many cases. This means that addiction patients also require treatment and monitoring to overcome the disease through a carefully planned rehabilitation program. For many years now, experts in the field of addiction treatment have stressed that medical rehabilitation is the way to go.
There are several benefits of rehab for addicts, and studies in Canada and the UK have shown that when people with addiction problems are treated under a medical rehabilitation program, they are less likely to suffer a relapse.
The opposite is true of treating addiction as a crime. Incarceration only makes the problem worse, as the prison environment helps to reinforce addictive behavior as most prisons are not drug-proof and inmates can perpetuate their drug behavior right in the secure walls of penitentiaries. Rather than reduce the problem, incarcerated addicts tend to go back to their bad ways after leaving the prison, and end up committing crimes to finance their substance use.
If we start looking at people with addiction as suffering from a disease rather than being misfits living a lowly life, we can start creating more opportunities for them through increased access to treatment, getting rid of stigmatization, inclusion into the society, and greater support for families of those suffering from these diseases. Many addicts would live a better and more fulfilling life if given a chance to change in the form of affordable rehabilitation. The benefits of rehab include detoxification, improved self-esteem, greater self-control and social interaction, and many others.
It has become clear to governments and drug law enforcement agencies that addiction is not merely driven by an urge to get high; the root of the problem is in the brain. And until we take care of the underlying cause, every other effort will be cosmetic.