Thursday, October 5, 2017


So it was holy crap below zero, and I was out walking through downtown Chicago, mainly as a result of being stupid. It was way, WAY too cold to be outside voluntarily, and I found myself ducking into building lobbies on occasion to warm up a bit. But as I walked past the IBM building, I noticed a bunch of people outside, shivering to death for the privilege of smoking a cigarette. And my first thought was, "Now THAT'S addiction." I actually had some things to do that day which I couldn't accomplish from home, but freezing my tail off just to avoid a few hours of withdrawal symptoms seemed crazy. That is, however, the point of addiction; the substance, whatever it is, becomes a necessity to the degree that it overrides other things.

And so, while I recognize that people have different levels of tolerance for the pain that goes along with being an addict, I'm always dubious about statements like this one:

If you make it easier for them to use drugs and more acceptable by society for them to use drugs, you're going to keep people from finding an exit strategy.
And that's even with understanding perfectly well where this guy is coming from. When I was growing up and we had drug education classes, for all of the talk that drug addiction was a disease, even in junior high school, it was understood that for many people, the disease theory of addiction with simply a cover for weak wills and poor "character." (Otherwise known as "not mirroring the right 'middle-class values' back at people.") Couple that with a general tendency to think that the best way to change someone's behavior is to make what they're currently doing more expensive (rather than making the desired alternative cheap), and it's pretty easy to arrive at the idea that what addicts need is less safety, and more suffering, to turn their lives around.

But that still leaves us in need of an answer for this:
"I was like, 'Oh my God, my life's gotten out of control'," she says, hands gripping her head. "I am getting raped, I'm overdosing on the regular, something's got to change."
But even with that, she couldn't compel herself to complete detox treatment. This is person who understands that in her current state, she has no good options. Either she goes looking for a high by herself, risking robbery or being sold phony drugs, or she teams up with a running partner who may demand sex; and simply take it if refused. (Not to mention the depredations of other random people on the street.) The idea that if only she had to endure that, day in and day out, for some indefinite amount of time, she'd come up with a viable "exit strategy," seems somewhere between deluded and openly disingenuous. However, it is true that some people "hit bottom," and then decide that they're gong to turn things around (at least for a while). When bottom is so far down that you can't see it from here, waiting on the impact seems counter-productive.

Part of the problem is that making the correct path less expensive, in terms of providing support for steady work, stable housing and a viable community around them, seems like "rewarding bad behavior." And that makes it a tough row to hoe. After all, there are plenty of people who are desperate need of those same things who haven't turned to illegal behavior. And so for many people, earmarking limited (if not scarce) resources for addicts at the expense of non-addicts has "perverse incentive" written all over it in red paint bright enough to be seen from orbit.

I understand the resistance to safe spaces for people to use drugs (along with a resistance to the idea of "safe spaces" in general). But hoping that a person's suffering will lead them to change their lives to something we approve of more has a set of perverse incentives of its own. Addiction has a way of pushing people to ignore punishments; and punishing conditions.

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