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Four reasons why Addiction is a political term

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

October 28, 2023

ddiction is not an objective term, it is a political term. It is another Drug War invention designed to pathologize the victims of prohibition.

To see this, let's first consider the way that the term is defined in Webster's Dictionary.

addiction: "The quality or state of being addicted -- specifically : the compulsive uncontrolled use of habit-forming drugs beyond the period of medical need or under conditions harmful to society."

Now let's consider four problems with that definition:

1) It's a little "rich" to pathologize the "compulsive uncontrolled use" of drugs with the pejorative label of "addiction," given that we live in a world where multibillion-dollar agencies are tasked with the job of making drug use as dangerous as possible. If, on the other hand, drugs were re-legalized and users had a smorgasbord of psychoactive options from which they could choose freely and were taught to use them safely, this "compulsive uncontrolled use" would arguably not exist. A drug that caused undue compulsion would be replaced by other less compulsion-causing drugs. (Obsessive use of a contaminated Fentanyl supply could be replaced, for instance, with a relaxing nightly session of uncontaminated opium smoking.) But this is something that the Drug Warrior cannot imagine, of course, because their puritanical presumptions make it unthinkable to fight drugs with drugs.

2) "beyond the period of medical need." This qualification ignores the whole reason for USING psychoactive drugs in the first place: they are not used for medical purposes but rather for the very human purpose of attaining self-transcendence in life. By defining addiction in terms of "medical need," we put scientists and doctors in judgment of a decision about drug use that only the user is competent to make. Only the user can decide if use of a certain psychoactive drug can be justified by a cost-benefit analysis given the user's own priorities in life, given what they personally consider to be the "summum bonum," a good life. The scientists and researchers may advise the would-be user about physical risks of a given drug, but they cannot decide whether that risk is worth taking because they do not know what the user most values in life. (Perhaps the user is like the opium-loving physician Avicenna, who was said to have valued "a short life with width to a narrow one with length.") Sure, the scientists and doctors can say that such illegal use would be wrong, morally speaking, as most would probably do these days, but that is not medical advice, that is legal and/or religious advice.

Even the determination of the amount of pain relief required in a given medical case is not a medical decision, except insofar as the doctor ensures that the dosages in question are not going to prove palpably injurious or lethal to a patient. Assuming that the patient's comfort is the goal of pain relief, then the decision about proper dosage must be informed by the patient's subjective experience of pain. This experience is in turn shaped in various ways and to various extents by social norms, as Ivan Illich discusses in Medical Nemesis. In other words, the patient is the expert when it comes to the amount of pain relief they require for a certain situation. It's barbarous that his or her preferences would be overruled by bureaucrats who intimidate doctors into prescribing niggardly doses of medicine in conformance to some supposed "objectively correct dosage" based on a supposedly average patient. Such politically correct dosing ignores the obvious fact that every patient is both different and unique in how they tolerate and even define "pain." They should not be punished for having outlier reactions to pain based on a Bell's curve depicting statistically typical reactions.

3) "under conditions harmful to society"? Who decides what is harmful to society? This is a subjective judgment. The Christian Scientist believes that any drug use is harmful to society, as do most politicians. The typical politician will also point to open-air drug markets and the mis-called "opioid crisis" as signs of harm, but this is a mere political charge in a world in which the harms of prohibition are never acknowledged, let alone discussed. The Drug Warriors blame drugs for the downsides of prohibition in order to divert attention from the real culprit: prohibition itself, which limits choices, contaminates the drug supply, and refuses to even speak about safe use.

4) The definition implies that there's something wrong with habit-forming drugs. But this is not an obvious truth. Coffee is habit-forming and use is encouraged. Alcohol is habit-forming, cigarettes are habit-forming. 1 in 4 American women use SSRIs every day of their life. And we don't even call that a habit. To the contrary, we call that "responsibly taking care of one's mental health!"

Author's Follow-up: October 28, 2023

Drug warriors will no doubt point to the case of hospital patients who are given a substance for pain relief and then become psychologically and perhaps even physically dependent on that drug. I have just three comments to attempt to pacify these statistically-challenged worrywarts.

1) The world is not perfect. We can never save everybody. Horse riding kills hundreds every year. Thousands of people die every year after taking aspirin. We have to put these things in perspective. It's cruel and unusual idiocy therefore to outlaw the use of time-honored godsends merely because they pose dangers to the unwary and thereby make children suffer in hospice. Even as I type this, there are many hospitals in India that do not stock morphine because of the Chicken Little fearmongering of puritanical American demagogues. Just think of all the terminal patients that are going through hell right now thanks to the irresponsible idiocy of stateside politicians. The Drug Warrior's answer is to deny adequate pain relief and relaxation (and spiritual quests, etc.) to billions and billions in order to save a handful of cases that can be portrayed on 48 Hours to a sound track of sobbing violins. This makes as much sense as denying food to your family because junior once choked on a chicken bone. It's also Christian Science gone mad.

2) When all drugs are legal and we have pharmacologically savvy empaths (instead of pill peddling psychiatrists), then such "addictions" are not going to be the end of the world for anybody. If anything, they may lead the supposed "addict" on a voyage of self-discovery with the responsible and guided use of empathogens and psychedelics. This is common sense -- but it's something that the Drug Warrior cannot imagine, for their puritan mindset renders them incapable of even thinking of fighting drugs with drugs. So much for the psychological aspects of so-called 'addiction.' The physical aspects can be treated by sleep cures of the kind that Jim Hogshire mentions in Opium for the Masses, and such cures can be expanded and perfected once we dump the anti-drug mindset that discourages such progress. In short, addiction need not be hell -- but Drug Warriors actually want it to be hell. Why? So that they can parlay the addict's pain into morality tales about the supposed evils of drugs.

3) Finally, as Carl Hart reminds us, the vast majority of drug users use drugs safely, despite the fact that their government is spending billions of dollars for the purpose of putting them in jeopardy.

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ME: "What are you gonna give me for my depression, doc? MDMA? Laughing gas? Occasional opium smoking? Chewing of the coca leaf?" DOC: "No, I thought we'd fry your brain with shock therapy instead."
Until we get rid of all these obstacles to safe and informed use, it's presumptuous to explain problematic drug use with theories about addiction. Drug warriors are rigging the deck in favor of problematic use. They refuse to even TEACH non-problematic use.
Until we legalize ALL psychoactive drugs, there will be no such thing as an addiction expert. In the meantime, it's insulting to be told by neuroscience that I'm an addictive type. It's pathologizing my just indignation at psychiatry's niggardly pharmacopoeia.
We don't need people to get "clean." We need people to start living a fulfilling life. The two things are different.
Chesterton might as well have been speaking about the word 'addiction' when he wrote the following: "It is useless to have exact figures if they are exact figures about an inexact phrase."
Chesterton wrote that, once you begin outlawing things on grounds of health, you open a Pandora's box. This is because health is not a quality, it's a balance. To decide legality based on 'health' grounds thus opens a Pandora's box of different points of view.
Prohibition turned habituation into addiction by creating a wide variety of problems for users, including potential arrest, tainted or absent drug supply, and extreme stigmatization.
The government causes problems for those who are habituated to certain drugs. Then they claim that these problems are symptoms of an illness. Then folks like Gabriel Mate come forth to find the "hidden pain" in "addicts." It's one big morality play created by drug laws.
Getting off antidepressants can make things worse for only one reason: because we have outlawed all the drugs that could help with the transition. Right now, getting off any drug basically means become a drug-free Christian Scientist. No wonder withdrawal is hard.
To put it another way: in a sane world, we would learn to strategically fight drugs with drugs.
Using the billions now spent on caging users, we could end the whole phenomena of both physical and psychological addiction by using "drugs to fight drugs." But drug warriors do not want to end addiction, they want to keep using it as an excuse to ban drugs.
Jim Hogshire described sleep cures that make physical withdrawal from opium close to pain-free. As for "psychological addiction," there are hundreds of elating drugs that could be used to keep the ex-user's mind from morbidly focusing on a drug whose use has become problematic.
And this is before we even start spending those billions on research that are currently going toward arresting minorities.
When doctors try to treat addiction without using any godsend medicines, they are at best Christian Scientists and at worst quacks. They are like the doctors in Moliere's "M
As Moliere demonstrated in the hilarious finale, anyone can be THAT kind of doctor by mastering a little Latin and walking around pompously in the proper uniform.
Like the pompous white-coated doctor in the movie "Four Good Days" who ignores the entire formulary of mother nature and instead throws the young heroin user on a cot for 3 days of cold turkey and a shot of Naltrexone: price tag $3,000.

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America's Invisible Addiction Crisis
Open Letter to Addiction Specialist Gabriel Maté
Sherlock Holmes versus Gabriel Maté
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In the Realm of Hungry Drug Warriors
Modern Addiction Treatment as Puritan Indoctrination
How the Drug War Turns the Withdrawal Process into a Morality Tale
Night of the Addicted Americans
The aesthetic difference between addiction and chemical dependency
Tapering for Jesus
How Addiction Scientists Reckon without the Drug War
How Prohibition Causes Addiction
Some Tough Love for Drug Addicts
My Cure for Addiction
The FDA's Hypocritical Concern about Addiction

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