So, today I read an interesting article on The Huffington Post (not my favorite site, but a fellow physician friend linked it to me via the Book of Faces). The article was written by Johann Hari, author of Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs.
Effectively, what Hari is suggesting in his study of the war on drugs and the nature of addiction is something that some of us may have already intuited, but isn't broad or common knowledge: addiction isn't a moral issue or a disease issue, it's a human connection issue.
...this discovery is a profound challenge both to the right-wing view that addiction is a moral failing caused by too much hedonistic partying, and the liberal view that addiction is a disease taking place in a chemically hijacked brain. In fact, he argues, addiction is an adaptation. It's not you. It's your cage.
I'm not going to rehash the entire article, and I'm not going to review the book (I haven't read it yet, but it's on my list of books to read, so I'll probably tackle it in the coming weeks). I looked at the references list for both the article and the books, and it's impressive. This isn't a sweet starry eyed hopeful writing to inspire a Utopia; this is a guy who spent a lot of time digging and learning and researching, both in animal and human studies and experience. He seems to have put in a lot of work here to delineate things that most of us dealing with addicts have already seen: that people who have solid human connection and their basic needs being met do not struggle with addiction the same way as those who do not.
What was particularly interesting to me was the timing of seeing that article. I listen to NPR in the morning on the way to work and Morning Edition is currently doing a series on "What Shapes Health." This morning's story was about a woman in DC who is in subsidized housing and the various issues that she faces with her own and her family's health. The story was actually about a program called Health Leads. Health Leads is an organization that seeks to link hospital patients (particularly those with poor resources) to the resources they need in their community: food, housing, employment, etc. In finding patients the necessities of life, patients' overall health quality improves. This leads to less strain on the healthcare system and reduction in cost of that care.
These two stories on the same morning for me just drove home again something that should be intuitive, but is often overlooked: people who are secure in the necessities of life such as food, shelter and community are healthier people. This applies to all fields of health, from addiction to diabetes, from chronic pain to hypertension. People with healthy souls tend to have healthy bodies.
Unfortunately, providing for people's souls (and I don't mean proselytizing to them here) can seem expensive. And human beings are very petty: why are you giving her that free house? No one gave me anything free, I had to work for it! Mooches! Leeches! Takers!
It's hard to convince someone who is working hard and barely scraping by that someone else who appears to be doing nothing deserves help. We're petulant people. We're vindictive. We've bought into the garbage of God helping those who help themselves. We don't like to admit that if you give people help, they're more likely to have the capability to help themselvs.
I'm not sure what my point here, other than a line taken from the HuffPo article: The opposite of addiction isn't sobriety, it's human connection.
So many people are concerned about their money being wasted for supposed layabouts who are just milking the system (or at least that's the image they've been given). What the either refuse to or don't realize that those same people, once given the resources to get shelter, food, meaningful work (even at a subsidized cost) reduces the other costs to society in so many ways: less addiction, less crime, less strain on an already stretched thin healthcare system.
Perhaps we could all work a little harder on making those human connections, rather than squabbling over what it may cost to connect people and make them healthier. I cannot help but believe that healthy people create a healthy community. Healthy communities make stronger societies. But maybe I'm just too shiny and naive. And thank God for that.