“Chasing the Scream” – rethinking addictions

drugs of abuseDid you spend the past several years being told that the only solution to anyone’s drug or alcohol issues involved a 12-step program? Were you told that addictions left unchecked are always fatal? Yeah, me too. Then along comes a journalist who turns that on its ear.
Johann Hari’s “Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs” refutes just about everything we thought we knew about drugs and treatment, and documents every bit of it meticulously. Mr. Hari spent years conducting in-depth research in numerous locales all over the world.
For decades, I was told that anyone who quit without a 12-step program was practicing “white knuckle sobriety,” that it was simply a “dry drunk.” Any lack of apparent struggle was explained away by stating that this person was never an addict. The reality is, one-size-fits-all programs, though an ideal solution for some, have failed many.
Regarding the larger picture of the drug war, Johann Hari cites the drug war’s history, from its beginnings spearheaded by Harry Anslinger a century ago, to current policies in several countries along with their successes and failures. Some countries have enacted helpful policies, but they are not widespread enough. We all know about the murders in places like Mexico. And a huge number of overdoses occur because–I hadn’t previously considered this aspect–illegal drug use takes place in private, with no medical professionals around to supervise dosage and ensure that the drugs aren’t cut with who knows what. It could be shoe polish for all we know, and people shoot that into their veins right along with the drugs.
Vancouver, British Columbia, is the only city on this continent, as of the date of the book’s publication, that has a controlled area where people can use under medical supervision. The irony of this decriminalization is, a number of people actually reduce their usage when they can indulge openly; some even quit completely. These policies have drastically reduced the number of drug-related fatalities. Many of these addicts have become successfully employed, now that their time is not occupied by the illegal activities involved in seeking out and paying for their substances.
If you know anyone who has struggled with addiction, or if you just have a personal interest in the topic, I highly recommend this book.