This past week I have been teaching about addiction in class, and as always, I ask my class how many people know someone personally who struggles with addiction. Almost every hand goes up. Then we talk about what we know about substance use and misuse. For this post, I would like to give you the resources that I give my class in case you know someone who has this kind of distress.
First, watch Johann Hari’s wonderful TED talk “Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong.” His explanation is very different from accepted views. Hari is an investigative journalist who has expanded his findings in his wonderful book “Chasing the Scream,” which is a history of the “drug war” in this country and the world.
Currently more researchers are becoming interested in the phenomenon of natural recovery: the decision by someone who is misusing substances to stop. It turns out that most people with addiction problems stop using their substance on their own in their 30’s or 40’s without help or intervention. This result of research runs completely counter to current views by most treating professionals, as well as lay people. Substance users themselves believe the standard myths.
One of the first people to study substance users outside of institutional settings is Patrick Biernacki. His book, which is the result of his interviews, is “Pathways from Heroin Addiction.” Biernacki used anthropological methods to find and interview people who are not visible in social institutions like hospitals and treatment centers because they do not use them.
One voice has been constant and persistent: Stanton Peele. He has written a number of books and has a website with an online program for people who wish to stop using substances. It is inexpensive and well-researched and can be done online at home.
At this point, even the government is beginning to look at this phenomenon of natural recovery. The National Institutes of Mental Health is calling for more study.
Because of the public policies which date back many decades, most people have a very specific, formulated view of substance use. There is no doubt substances–both legal and illegal– can be dangerous and destructive. But the truth is not what people have been educated to believe, and those accepted views are damaging to substance users and the people who care about them.