June 04, 2021

Addiction from a different perspective

Trigger Warning: Reference to addictions

(Note: In view of the latest decisions concerning the therapy center for dependent individuals (KETHEA) in Greece, I found the courage to discuss a very sensitive topic that concerns many citizens.)

Ever since we were little kids, the people closest to us have tried to make us understand that the concept of addiction cannot staff the inner world of a “healthy” citizen, who constitutes part of society. During our upbringing, they wanted us not to come into contact with these individuals, thinking that a possible interaction with them is dangerous and capable of affecting us negatively. Very often we were shown that on the other side lies sobriety, which for humans functions as a succorer in finding happiness. However, the question that arises as we get older is why do addicted people choose to be unhappy and how can they carve a different path, in order to get back on their feet again?

We ought to mention that addiction is a behavior characterized by dependence on a particular activity, like drug use, alcohol, and gambling. Since the beginning of the 20th century, we notice a common policy around the world in terms of dealing with addicted citizens. Specifically, we believe that through the enforcement of penalties (imprisonment) and marginalization of these individuals, we will manage to discourage them, causing fear and thereby leading them to abandon their toxic habits, which render them addicted.

In the early 90s, a European country, Portugal, which until then had faithfully followed the globally dominant model of treatment for addicts, by punishing them and making them suffer, went through an unprecedented crisis regarding drug abuse. In particular, one out of every 100 citizens (1%) was a heroin addict, resulting in the rapid increase of HIV (AIDS) infected people. At the time, they realized based on this data that not only was this particular model, which aimed to eliminate drug use, unsuccessful, but it also led to its escalation. Thus, in 2001 the Portuguese government made an unheard-of decision for that time. They decriminalized drug use. Simultaneously, they invested in and created rehabilitation programs that were not vindictive towards the addicts. On the contrary, they aimed at their reintegration into society by creating special job opportunities. In doing so, they gave motivation to these people to be activated, use aspects of themselves towards something productive, and the opportunity to become members of society again. As a result, drug use decreased by more than 50%. Moreover, in 1996, 369 deaths from drug overdose were reported, while in 2016 there were only 30, and the number of people in prison for drug-related cases fell by 70% in twenty years.

But the question remains: “why would people become addicted to habits that can lead them to wretchedness?”. Bruce K. Alexander attempted to give a possible interpretation through an experiment. He placed a rat inside a cage that contained only a glass of water and a glass full of drugs. He noticed that every day the rat preferred to drink from the second glass, a seemingly illogical choice. A few years later, he decided to perform a variation of his experiment. He chose to place the rat among others of its kind in one place, providing it with all the amenities and creating an ideal living environment. The result was that it never used drugs again. It would not be wrong to compare this particular experiment with the “Vietnam war” during which 95% out of the 20% of soldiers who used drugs stopped when they returned to their home and family without even participating in any rehabilitation program. In this light, we could say that the reason which leads people to become addicted is the “cage” they are in at that particular time.

Certainly, not every one of us can understand how an addicted citizen might overcome what torments them. However, this does not mean that we cannot reflect and find prospects, which will aim for the formation of a society that does not turn its back on these people, but one that will provide a helping hand for them to get back on their feet. We must promote the idea that they are not alone in this tough battle; they are fighting to re-enter society. Because, in the end, sobriety has never been the opposite of addiction, but the connection to the rest of the world.

Source of the experiment:

Sources for the data about Portugal:

Source for the data about the Vietnam war:

Photography by Simeon Maniatis

Stratis Karagiorgos

Born 19 years ago in Yiannina and now a student in the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in AUTh. He tends to overanalyse things, but he doesn’t know yet if that’s a good or a bad asset. If you ever need him, he most probably will be in a small cozy bar with friends. I don’t promise anything though on what condition he’ll be in when you find him.

Panagiota Katsaveli (she/her)

A proud Hufflepuff with a major sweet tooth and extreme curiosity about the world. Born and raised in Kilkis, but her imagination has convinced her that she has lived in every corner of the world. Spends most of her free time watching TV shows, simultaneously adopting the personality traits and behavior of her favorite characters. Her attitude towards life is Fake it till you Make it.

Chrysoula Toliopoulou (she/her)

A 20 year old optimist who is constantly striving to improve herself. I live by travelling, looking at the sky and observing my surroundings. Nature and space enthusiast, with grand affection towards the environment and any form of art but especially music! Gaining courage by volunteering and petting dogs! Also learning foreign languages in my free time but still struggle to communicate with people sometimes.

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