For every person ‘addicted’ to drugs there is a person who is equally addicted to ‘helping’ them.
“Functional” drug and alcohol addicts are able to hold down a job and perhaps maintain healthy healthy long-term relationships. The addiction may interfere with their lives and limit their potential, but for the most part they are not a burden on society or the people close to them. They keep their addiction to themselves. It is debatable whether these people can really be called addicts at all, but either way, let’s set aside this category and instead focus on the type of addict who is a burden on society or their family, who is unable to control their addiction, causes harm to themselves or others, and holds the procurement of their drug of choice over all other things. This is the real problem of addiction, which is after all why drugs are considered so dangerous, and justifies their criminality in some cases.
This type of addiction, which threatens grave harm to oneself or others, is considered a mental disorder and/or medical disease, and is treated as such. The addict is treated similarly to how a person with a physical disease is treated, with doctors and medicines and hospitals and treatment programs. However, these treatments fail to recognize that in fact addiction is disorder of relationships. Unlike other diseases like cancer or schizophrenia, which can occur spontaneously on their own and don’t require the involvement of other people, destructive addiction can develop only in the context of a relationship and social connections. The alcoholic must be given assistance to drink in one form or another, whether it’s money to purchase the alcohol, a ride when they are drunk, or a place to live when they cannot afford one on their own. Despite some sensationalistic reports to the contrary, rarely does alcoholism develop on its own. In most cases, the person drinks in order to feel like they are part of a social group, to feel they belong. One is particularly vulnerable when there is little else of import going on, or when the person may feel like they cannot succeed in the world as it is. The drug fills the vacuum and provides purpose and meaning, in large part by creating an instant psychological connection with other users. In other cases, the drug may make the user feel a connection to sober people, perhaps by reducing social anxiety, even though such a feeling is probably false.
A common example is the alcoholic husband (or wife), who is able to drink sometimes for many years with the help of the spouse, intentional or otherwise. The drinking may cause all types of problems: physical abuse, legal problems, financial problems, social ostracism. But the spouse, whether out of duty, love, or embarrassment, may support (‘enable’) their partner in order to protect them from the most serious potential consequences of their behavior. For example, they may provide financial support if the spouse loses their job, or feed them when they are hungry, or provide a ride when they are too drunk to drive. The addict would not be able to maintain their usage without this support. In fact, in some cases the husband may go from wife to wife, depleting their resources both financially and emotionally, until they are destitute, and then move on to the next victim-bride. The addict could stop this behavior, but is simply having too much fun to want to. Instead they trick the victim into falling in love with them, often with a sophisticated, well planned strategy, and then after a quick visit to the altar, proceed to suck them dry. As with all parasites, they cannot survive without the support of the host.
As part of this charade, the husband (in this example) uses the myth of addiction to claim to want to go ‘straight’ if only he could overcome the power of the drug, and needs the help of his wife to do so. But in reality he has no intention of doing so, he is simply stringing her along so that he can continue his fun. The husband goes to rehab, where he pretends to improve and ‘work on his issues’, and then is sent right back home into the environment that enables his use. The ‘treatment’ fails to recognize that the user has no intention of quitting, because he’s enjoying the high, and in many cases it would mean a return to life as a boring loser who has to get a job and is destined for mediocrity. Protecting the husband from this reality, the wife continues to provide the means that allow him to use. He also reminds the wife of her vows (“In sickness and in health”), and thus she is obligated to support him since because of the myth, she believes that drug/alcohol addiction is a disease. The addiction could not exist without this support, and in this way it must be understood a disease of a relationship, not of a mind or brain.
People want to have fun, this is a natural desire, and not necessarily indicative of a mental disorder. If someone is using drugs and having fun, why should they stop? If they are a mental or financial drain on others, this is not in itself a reason to stop, because the user makes the simple utilitarian conclusion that their happiness is more important. Often they are correct, because the enabler is more often than not a person who also has nothing better in life to do than to focus on ‘fixing’ the drug user. The lonely middle age woman who falls for the serial marriage scammer is a perfect example. She could divorce him, but she prefers to assume the role of martyr, to give her own life meaning even as the spouse strips away all her dignity. Commonly she finds a ‘sacred’ reason to persevere, such as a belief in ‘true love’, or that the spouse has a serious illness and would quickly die without her.
The same dynamic holds for the parent of a drug addicted child. The parent is fooled and manipulated into providing food, shelter, and money, if not the drug itself, for their ‘addicted’ child. The child will play on the parent’s sympathies by convincing them that he will starve or kill himself if he does not receive the drug. This may seem cruel and psychopathic, but in fact the child may feel that their support is rightfully his, whether because of perceived past injustices, or by the simple fact that they created him and are therefore the cause of his suffering and inadequacies. This is certainly an immature rationalization, but immaturity is a common trait among inchoate drug users. The child knows that there is no more powerful motivation than the appearance of his own suffering, and will exploit that to no end to get the parents’ support. And it works. The child could stop using at any time, but again there no reason for that. He’s having too much fun. In some cases, he may even enjoy the suffering of the parent, whether from a sadistic streak or a desire for revenge. The parent, unable to accept that they could have created such a monster, persists in the addiction fairy tale that a foreign substance has taken control of their child, and the hateful creature in their sight is not of their own doing. And so they go to any length to try to ‘help’ them. Without this help, the child would be forced to stop using, because they simply could not afford the drugs and other living expenses on their own.
Humans engage in all sorts of unhealthy endeavors, which although not profitable, are nevertheless legal. For example: hoarding, anorexia, overeating, drinking alcohol, self-mutilation, and psychologically abusive relationships. Drug use is considered an exception because of the perceived tendency to create an overpowering addiction among the vulnerable, and many drugs are illegal because of this. However, this is a complete misunderstanding of drug use. In reality, what we think of as ‘drug addiction’ is simply a dysfunctional relationship, and not an involuntary response. After many years of use the drug can cause characteristic damage to the brain and other organs, and certainly this is a medical issue and must be treated medically. But this situation is pretty rare, and anyway one cannot get to this point without the assistance of others to support their addiction. Once this is understood, we will stop trying to help people overcome ‘addiction’, and simply stop helping them do drugs in the first place.