June 10th marks 75 years of the first effective treatment for addiction. The American Medical Association began defining alcoholism as a disease in 1956. Not too long thereafter, they included other forms of addiction as well, but for some reason the disease concept of addiction has failed to gain wide public understanding.
This is exacerbated by some individuals who rail against the idea for their own reasons–often the fact that their particular livelihoods are tied up in other ideas. Of course, the Man on the Street tends still to consider alcoholics “weak” people who don’t have enough “willpower” to Just Say No–and those drug addicts, well, they must just be some kind of degenerates.
I have this to say about that: apart from family, my best friends are recovering addicts and alcoholics. Furthermore, the most interesting people I know — virtually to a (wo)man — are in recovery. Statistically, addicts have IQ’s several points above the national average, and many are exceptionally gifted. They’re just plain more interesting than most Earth People — as long as they’re clean and sober. Of course, when they’re messed up they’re just as dumb and boring as I used to be.
Addiction, in its various forms, is the number-one health problem in the United States, and in most of the other Western societies as well. We need to understand that this is a disease, in order to recover and, in the case of “normal” folks, to be able to understand those who suffer from it. Addiction costs nearly half a trillion dollars annually in the US alone. We pay for lost productivity, broken homes, damaged potential, medical and social welfare costs, the costs of incarcerating a criminal population that is overwhelmingly afflicted with addictions, the effects of growing up in a dysfunctional or addicted family, and the other chaos that alcoholics and other addicts leave strewn about.
Society needs to stop looking at drunks and junkies as detritus, and instead realize the potential they represent. We’re not some old boot to be cast aside. On a simple basis of cost-effectiveness, we make big money every time an addict gets clean. The average alcoholic/addict costs taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars before they die. The average recovering addict contributes at least that, and often much more.
This ain’t rocket surgery, folks. It’s plain old common sense.