The former CEO of the UK’s National Treatment Agency explains in The Conversation why the vast majority of people who use addictive drugs don’t ever become addicted, and why that’s important when it comes to developing social policy.
“Addiction, unlike use, is heavily concentrated in our poorest communities – and within those communities it is the individuals who struggle most with life who will succumb,” writes Paul Hayes. “Compared to the rest of the population, heroin and crack addicts are: male, working-class, offenders, have poor educational records, little or no history of employment, experience of the care system, a vulnerability to mental illness and increasingly are over 40 with declining physical health.”
“Unfortunately the strong relationship between social distress and addiction is ignored by politicians and media commentators in favour of an assumption that addiction is a random risk driven by the power of the drug,” comments Hayes. “It does happen. But the atypical experience of the relatively small number of drug users from stable backgrounds who stumble into addiction and can legitimately attribute the chaos of their subsequent lives to this one event drowns out the experience of the overwhelming majority of addicts for whom social isolation, economic exclusion, criminality and fragile mental health preceded their drug use rather than being caused by it.”
Many people use drugs – but here’s why most don’t become addicts (The Conversation, January 6, 2015)