Stephen R. Kandall: Addiction not a moral failing

September 5, 2013 

Addiction not a failing

What a contrast! First I read the judgmental Aug. 30 letter telling addicts to “take responsibility for their own actions.” This simplistic, “just say no” approach fails to understand the complex nature of addiction, which should not be defined in moral terms but rather as a brain disease. Although the writer thought “more tax money” should not be wasted, we have already spent more than a trillion dollars on the “War on Drugs” since the early 1970s, with questionable results. Professionals know that investing in drug treatment programs is far more efficient than a fruitless cycle of prosecution and incarceration.

Then, as if in rebuttal, I read the personal, sensitive, informed Point of View piece “Let N.C. lead way on helping addicts,” which more accurately defines addiction as a chronic disease – such as diabetes, hypertension and epilepsy – that has its own cycle of exacerbations and remissions but remains treatable.

It is sad to read of children caught in the web of addiction and sad to realize that an answer to addiction remains elusive. It is also sad, however, to read that people continue to define addiction as a moral failing, perpetuating the unproductive cycle of anger and blame.

Stephen R. Kandall, M.D.


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