Stanton Peele wrote about the treatment or jail dichotomy almost 10 years ago, and what he had to say was brilliant (click the heading of this post to link to it).  Almost a decade later, the same argument is presented again and again.

The argument goes like this:
Drug addicts are breaking the law by using illegal substances, but don’t be heartless – they have a disease, have sympathy and give them the treatment they so desperately need rather than locking them up in jail.
An article on Huffington Post criticized Obama’s latest plans for battling drugs as being too focused on law enforcement, and not focused enough on treatment.  It subtly raised the treat em or jail em argument:

Think about it. What we’ve done for the last 40 years has not worked. So, why would we continue down the same path? 65% of America’s drug policy money goes for law enforcement while only about 30% goes for treatment. What would happen if we flipped those numbers and put the emphasis on anti-drug therapy and education?

Well, my quick answer to that question is, very little would change if the numbers were flipped in favor of treatment.  There may be a few less people in jail – but in the long run, we wouldn’t end up with fewer substance abusers, because treatment doesn’t really work either.

This argument never stops coming up – should we treat substance abusers, or put them in jail?

My answer: Neither.

If your goal is to stop people from abusing drugs, these options will be of little help.  The only way jail will help is in the short term, while the person is in jail, they might not use – but when they get out, they must make their own decisions again, and if they want to get high, they’ll do it.  You can lock them up for life, and you may permanently end their drug use – but that defeats the goal, which is to lead the substance abuser to a better life.  I think that’s the goal anyways, that’s how I see it.  I guess there are some people who want to impose their will on others and just stop them from using drugs because they don’t approve of it – but most of us just want to see people drop the drug abuse and be happy productive people who aren’t on a path to destruction.  So, it would seem that the other option is always Treatment.

Treatment for addiction really doesn’t work.  There are many reasons why treatment doesn’t work, the most basic one being that we are told from the get go that it won’t work.  The first thing you do when you go into treatment is get badgered into believing that you have an incurable disease which compels you to drink.  That’s the big goal, the first step – to admit that you are powerless.  It’s part of the 12-steps, and thus a part of most treatment programs.  If you don’t give in to this idea, you will be told that you have made no progress and you are doomed.  There are plenty of statistics which prove treatment doesn’t work, if you’re interested, dig through Stanton Peele’s and Baldwin Research’s sites.

Getting back on track though, I have called the options of “treat em or jail em” a false dichotomy – why?  Obviously, I see a third option, and I’ll label it – “teach em”.  The similarity between treating and jailing is the use of force.  We think we can force the substance abuser to stop, and that’s just not the way.  There is one piece of common knowledge about quitting substance abuse which I truly believe – you have to want it.  If you have the desire to put an end to your substance abusing lifestyle and move on to something better, then you will succeed.  So, by “teach em”, I mean that we should simply show the substance abuser that he can have something better.  Show him that he is choosing cheap thrills over a deeply fulfilling happiness.  Teach him how to hone in on his values and choose goals that truly excite him, then support his efforts to follow his dreams.

If the substance abuser never finds something more satisfying than drugs, then he will always inevitably return to drugs.  Bottom line.  If we forcibly send him to rehab or jail, then he quits temporarily so that he may regain control of his life (and I mean take control back from the authorities who have pushed him into treatment or jail), once he regains control and is released from jail, probation, or treatment – he does what he wants to do: drugs.  It’s not a disease he’s dealing with, it’s a poor pattern of choices he’s dealing with.  And guess what, it’s ok to make some bad choices, you take your knocks and jump back up on the horse again.  But it’s not ok to approach someone who’s made bad choices and use the power of the medical establishment, law enforcement, media, and other authority figures to convince him that he didn’t make bad choices, that he was powerless to do any different.  That is not ok, in fact, it’s downright cruel.

I’m passionate about this because I often encounter people who, upon learning that I believe addiction is a choice rather than a disease, immediately characterize me as cruel.  They say “oh, so you think we should just send them to jail”.  I don’t think that, for two reasons, 1 it doesn’t fit with my libertarian political beliefs, and 2 I don’t think it ‘ll do one ounce of good.  But treatment isn’t the only other option, nor is it better, because your chances at ending your problem will go down after you’ve attended treatment and been brainwashed into believing you have a disease which is up to doctors to fix.

Choose the third option – teach em.  But do not teach em the standard lies, that as soon as you use a drug you’ll become an addict, and all the other nonsense which completely undermines the educational programs out there.  And don’t teach em it’s a disease.  Teach em it’s a poor choice , especially in the face of so many better choices.
The Freedom Model For Addictions
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*In cases of physical withdrawal, medical treatment and/or medical detoxification services may be necessary. Consult with a licensed physician..
The Freedom Model and the Freedom Model Retreats, divisions of Baldwin Research Institute, Inc., do not provide any services that require certification by New York State’s Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. The information in this book is designed to provide information and education on the subject of substance use and human behavior. This book is not meant to be used, nor should it be used, to diagnose or treat any associated condition. The publisher and authors are not responsible for any consequences from any treatment, action, application, or preparation, by any person or to any person reading or following the information in this book. The publisher has put forth its best efforts in preparing and arranging this. The information provided herein is provided “as is” and you read and use this information at your own risk. The publisher and authors disclaim any liabilities for any loss of profit or commercial or personal damages resulting from the use of the information contained in this book.


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