I shared this on Facebook:
My status reads:
As a former meth addict (in my seventh year clean), I am highly amused by one aspect of the cigarette ban here in South Africa…
It means that ordinary people, smokers, are suddenly *almost* aware of how wrong it is to criminalize drugs. Almost. But not quite.
They have no problem buying illegal cigarettes, even though that technically makes them just like the addict/criminal I used to be. They’re addicted and have no problem acquiring their substance of choice even though it is against the law.
I don’t think they get it though. I don’t think they realize that sometimes, what makes one an addict or criminal is not the addiction or the substance dependency/abuse itself, but the consequences *imposed* on you for using them.
Excuse the broken subject-verb concord in the last paragraph, which should read “what makes one… imposed on one…”. I wrote it quickly. I don’t really have much to add to it, as I think it makes the argument clearly enough.
Of course it is more complex than that. Cigarettes don’t give you a high like meth does… Or do they? Actually the meth high is more subtle than you think, and I was able to perform well enough as a software developer for several years while using it. Things were a little crazy in my life, but they didn’t get completely out of control until people knew about my drug abuse.
I’m not saying that drug abuse isn’t a problem and that it doesn’t need intervention. But I am saying that criminalizing it and the way addiction is treated, is not working. I know I’m right. Also I don’t know what the best approach would be to decriminalize addiction… Can you decriminalize the addicts but not the drugs? I don’t know… But I do think the approach to addiction taken by most countries is a catastrophic failure.
Aside… Whether or not addiction is a disease is another matter, and one that I’m unclear on. I see it as a behavioural disorder, one that has been categorized as a disease by the recognized medical and scientific community. That makes it a disease by definition.
However, the effects of addiction on the brain are what I would consider normal and expected, including both the psychological effects and the physiological effects to, for example, the hedonic system of the brain, which adjusts and changes under stress (allostasis).
But all of that, the entire debate of whether or not addiction is a disease, is in my opinion a red herring, when treatment for it involves belief in god, AKA magical thinking. So the debate is irrelevant when we do not treat addiction anything like the way we treat any known disease.