Understanding How Addiction Became Public Enemy #1

AddictionAddiction became a declared public enemy due to significant cultural changes in the latter part of the twentieth century, and to this day addiction has remained a top social and political priority. Billions of dollars have been spent by the government and the public to tackle the problems associated with addiction.

The Start of the War on Drugs

As a result of the counterculture movement of the sixties and early seventies, the public became alarmed with the increased use of recreational drugs, such as marijuana, LSD and amphetamines. During this period, soldiers were returning from Vietnam after having experimented with and becoming hooked on heroin. Due to the confluence of these factors, President Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, and the following year officially declared the “war on drugs.”

The Crack Epidemic

During the early eighties, a cheap, smokable form of cocaine referred to as “crack” became widely used in urban areas. Because this form of cocaine was affordable to the poor in these areas, its use became rampant and trade in the drug very lucrative. As rival gangs battled for territory and business in the trade, violent crime skyrocketed, frightening the public and leading to very strict sentences for drug crimes, particularly for those possessing or trafficking cocaine or crack. Due to stiffer penalties for drug offenders, particularly with mandatory minimum sentences, the number of prisoners in jails and prisons in the United States skyrocketed, costing many billions of extra dollars annually. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, in 2013 one out of 110 American adults was incarcerated, placing America well above all other nations in its rate of incarceration.

A More Enlightened View of Addiction

Due to advances in neuroscience and greater awareness of the nature of addiction, there has been a social and political shift more recently towards viewing addiction as a medical rather than criminal matter. Without addressing the medical and psychological needs of those suffering from substance abuse, the cycle of addiction is likely to continue, bringing about all of the costs, social and financial, with it. Therefore, increased efforts by local and state communities have been made to rehabilitate and provide therapy for those with problems of substance abuse, with emphasis on addressing underlying problems rather than symptoms of these individuals.

The Benefits of a Treatment Center

With the shift in focus to rehabilitation rather than incarceration, treatment centers have become a popular option for those suffering from substance abuse. Treatment centers offer such persons an atmosphere of support, acceptance and guidance to overcome their addictions. Treatment centers typically offer personalized programs and heavily monitor their patients, thus giving them a much better chance to become fully-functioning, productive members of society. In the long run, treatment centers bring about significant cost-savings for communities, while decreasing recidivism rates in the criminal justice system.