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Why Punishment Isn’t the Answer to Addiction

Journalist Johann Hari, in his book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, offers some of the most potent insights into why America’s international War on Drugs has been such a catastrophic failure. At our Orange County detox and rehab, we see the effects of these policies every day and draw on decades of research on why punishment is not the answer to addiction. The War on Drugs focuses on isolating those most in need, inadvertently empowers drug peddlers and organized crime, while better options are ignored.

The War on Drugs Has Punished All Americans

The War on Drugs was intended to keep Americans safe, sober, and healthy, yet the consequences show anything but. According to drugpolicy.org, the War on Drugs is responsible for $47 billion in spending and resulted in over 1.6 million arrests, 85% of which were simply for possession. This aggressive push to arrest users lead to the US having the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Nearly half of these arrests were African Americans and Latinos. In neighboring Mexico, over 200,000 people were killed as a part of the drug wars. In the US, over 200,000 students lost their financial aid for college because of a drug conviction. If all these negative consequences are a result of the drug wars, what positive outcomes was the war aiming for, and did it achieve those results?

Isolation and the War on Drugs

The War on Drugs was simply an attempt to end drug use in the US. However, even at the time, there was evidence in multiple countries that trauma, isolation, and other negative life stressors are all causes of addiction. Sending people to prison for coping with stress and isolation with drugs and alcohol will only fuel the fire. Incarcerating those suffering from addiction is like taking insulin from a diabetic. You’re removing the very thing they need most as a punishment for their disease. Even at a surface level, it should be obvious that punishing someone for addiction is only going to discourage treatment and lead to a deeper and more secretive dependence on drugs.

We’ve Seen This War on Drugs Fail Before

Prohibition was America’s first attempt at a drug war—attempting to control substances by force and punishing those who used recreationally. The results were unmistakably bad, and yet we repeated the whole process all over again. By making alcohol illegal, Americans switched from drinking beers and low APV drinks to whiskeys and liquors which could be snuck around more efficiently and bring intoxication quicker. This also created a massive market for gangsters like Al Capone to create an industry in smuggling alcohol. As Capone made a name for himself with corruption and brutality, future gangsters had to one-up him to make their names, leading to an endless feedback loop of violence.

Reversing Addiction is Providing Care, Not Punishment

Hiding, suppressing, and punishing addiction does not make it go away. Those were the go-to options for many decades, and they’ve hurt Americans on a personal and national level. Being forthright about the truths of addiction, and how to heal those suffering from addiction, is quintessential to eradicating the disease. If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction, proper care and attention can help them overcome. Call our Orange County detox programs at (714) 782-3973 as soon as you can.