A recent interview with a meth addict on a local news program revealed a great truth about addiction. The reporter was doing a story on drug testing addicts who are being released from prison and she interviewed a young lady who was involved in the testing program. The meth addict pointed out that society should not force people to be tested or locked up because they choose to use drugs. She felt like it was all a waste of tax money because “drug users are not going to stop until they get ready to.” Her answer reveals a great truth about addiction, which is that both treatment and punishment is ineffective unless addicts choose to stop their destructive behaviors.
My work with prison inmates has convinced me that both treatment and punishment need to be reassessed. I am not sure what should be done to change the punishment option, but long prison terms do not seem to be achieving the goal that society has in mind. A reassessment of treatment should involve a change in emphasis. The focus of treatment ought to be on why people want to take drugs rather than attributing behavior to a disease. The reason why people do things is based on what they value at the moment, and if you do not change values it is unlikely you will change behavior. The view that behavior is a disease is self-defeating in that it seems to prolong the very behavior society is trying to stop.
This young lady is actually closer to change than one might think because she has insight in what is causing her problems, and she understands that she is not going to change until she chooses to change. In contrast, many treatment programs often instill within addicts a sense of helplessness and inevitability regarding behavior that actually prolongs addiction. So, what is the solution to addiction? The young lady is right, it is not incarceration or testing that will stop addiction, and it is certainly not a treatment program that encourages people to repeat negative and self-defeating statements about themselves. If you are currently trying to change your behavior, or if you are trying to help someone else change, I recommend many of the practical idea’s in Stanton Peele’s book, 7 Tools to Beat Addiction. In his book, Peele makes this observation about the importance of values:
Values can be expressed by statements about what you think is right and wrong, or about your preferences, such as “I value our relationship,” “I value my health,” “I believe in hard work,” “Nothing is more important to me than my children,” “It is embarrassing to be out of control of yourself.” All of these values oppose addiction. Other values, or an absence of values, can reinforce addiction. For example, if you don’t think that it’s wrong to be intoxicated or high, if it’s not important to you to fulfill your obligations to other people, or if you don’t care whether you succeed at work, then you are more likely to sustain an addiction. (p. 25)
Positive values are the best addiction preventative and the goal of parents should be to instill values in their children. There is never a guarantee that children will accept the values modeled by parents, but it is important that children be given good values to model. This is the best thing parents can do to addiction-proof their children.
The young lady in the news story is going through a process of discovering her values. Right now, she must decide whether the benefit of methamphetamine is worth prison and poverty. Perhaps she was never encouraged to adopt a set of positive values, or she may have chosen to reject the model she was given. There may be circumstances in her environment or false beliefs about herself that also contribute to her decision to take drugs. Regardless of her reasons, she must now adopt a new set of values or face the continuing negative consequences of continued drug use.
J B Myers
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