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[ Opinion ]

Early Prevention vs. Punishment For Alcohol and Substance Use

In customer service, it is often said that it is easier to prevent a problem than to solve it after it has occurred, yet in dealing with substance abuse we do not really take this same stand. As a country, we pretend that alcoholism and substance abuse consistently affect 10% of the population on a hereditary level. We punish the individual once the problems makes itself known, usually through “criminal” activity,forgetting the role that society played in encouraging excessive use. We punish the person rather than seek a real solution. So we actually do not even attempt to solve the problem afterward, we just seek to move it elsewhere so that we can continue to pretend it does not exist.

With a national agenda that is focused on denial and punishment, is it no wonder that we are currently seeing the spike in drug overdoses that are occurring in this country. Drug addiction and alcoholism are ugly, they are not pleasant things to witness and so wanting to deny their existence or punish addicts and alcoholics makes sense on the surface, but at the same time it has done nothing but further propagate the issue and resulted in Trillions, yes with a T, of dollars being wasted to help cover-up the problem of drug addiction in this country.

The sad thing about is that there is a better way of going about dealing with drug addiction and alcoholism in this country. There are proven methods that can help to intervene in the problem early on in a person’s life, that would not only result in more people having a chance at recovery, but would also save the American Taxpayer Billions of dollars every year. These methods do not involve incarcerating non-violent drug offenders for years at a time, sucking them into a system that is not designed to help them, but rather these methods are focused on prevention and education, two methods that show great promise in helping to thwart addiction.

It seemed for a minute that with the passing of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, a change in methodology was just around the corner. There was talk of increased funding for drug rehabilitation and education and a move away from incarceration, but the CARA bill will only interject an additional $37 million into drug treatment programs, which is nowhere near the amount needed to help combat this problem. To put this in perspective the federal government approved $1.1 billion in spending to help combat Zika in June, a terrible disease indeed, but one that has only directly affected 30,000 people in the US so far. Now 1 in 10 Americans suffers from an addiction of some sort, meaning that 30 million people are left with only $37 million of government funding to help deal with their problem. If this was not enough, the US spends roughly $80 billion a year on incarceration, so it seems like the funding is skewed against the addicts and alcoholics.

What if we took some that funding and actually created programs for early prevention? What if we gave our already overworked and underfunded school systems some of this money so that they could better monitor for warning signs and intervene at a time when the addict may still be reachable?

Well if we did that, the landscape of addiction would probably look very different in this country. If we started to actually work toward prevention of addiction, trying to cut it off at the knees, rather than wait till it’s a full-fledged problem, then we may actually have a chance of getting out ahead of this illness rather than always trying to come from behind.

It is difficult, though, I will admit because alcoholism and addiction are not like other diseases. It isn’t just a matter of throwing money at research and prevention, because of the social implications of these illnesses. These are diseases that lurk in the shadows and do not make themselves known, sometimes even to the people who have them. So just offering money for education will not truly change the problem, but rather only shift funding from one broken system to another.

No, just throwing money at the problem will not work, but there needs to be an accompanying shift in discourse as well. We need to start to looking at drug addiction as an actual disease. One that the person afflicted did not choose to have and if this occurs then we can begin to actually deal with the problem rather than just shift the blame from one sector to another and pass the buck from here to there.

For almost 40 years our approach has not worked and yet we continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. For all of the PR that the Obama administration has done for the CARA Bill and his work with Macklemore, it appears that once again nothing will change. That we will rise up against addiction for a year and then when we lose focus or our attention span dissipates it will be swept under the carpet and drug addicts and alcoholics will be incarcerated at alarming rates again.

If we could just find it in ourselves, as a nation, to empathize with drug addicts and not begrudge them their illness, we may possibly have a chance at really making a change. If we would better educate teachers and other professionals who deal with children at their most vulnerable ages then we could possibly prevent the onset of serious addiction later on, and if we could come together and realize that the prison-industrial complex in this country does nothing but serve the greater good of an elite few who own these private prisons, then we could possibly stop locking away an entire generations of people and maybe… just maybe rehabilitate some of them.

That is my hope at least, that we will move away from punishing drug addicts and alcoholics and move towards helping them understand what they are experiencing. In doing so, we will not only save ourselves a lot of money in the long run but probably save lives in the process.

Rose Lockinger is a passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.

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