Why Moralizing Addiction Doesn’t Work

Apr 1, 2017

Addiction has proven itself to be one of the most major social problems of our time. The rates of addiction have continued to climb, since the turn of the century, and the opioid epidemic is a sure sign that there are many aspects of addiction that have to be addressed. The good news is that the awareness for addiction has continued to climb, as well. This means that more steps are being taken to help solve the problem. However, we have to be careful to control the narrative in which addiction is viewed. In particular, the view that addiction is a moral evil is something that we must take great pains to prevent. Here is why moralizing addiction doesn’t work…

Shame creates alienation

First of all, based on the data that is available to us, it’s important to note that the disease-model of addiction has proven to be the most successful, in terms of saving lives and helping people get clean. Despite the fact that this model isn’t perfect, and certainly doesn’t have the efficiency that we want, it is definitely the best option available to us. With this in mind, think of how harmful it is to morally distance ourselves from those who suffer from addiction. This sort of shaming tactic only works to foster alienation, which pushes addicts farther from the help that they need to get clean, and get back to their families.

Moralizing addiction ignores circumstances that create it

While addiction isn’t a choice, the ability to moralize it is. When we choose to moralize addiction, there is an inherent decision to ignore that circumstances out of which addiction arises, whether they be psychological, socio economic, physical, or familial. Each person’s journey into the throes of addiction is different, and it is not our place to judge our fellow members of humanity, but to make the conditions out of which they can emerge as more spiritually, emotionally, and mentally fulfilled individuals than before.

Physical addiction is a physical disorder

For many substances, from legal ones like alcohol to hard street drugs like heroin, the addictive properties of these drugs actual develop into a physical dependency. This means that the body actually begins to depend on these substances to function properly. Nobody ever wants to get to this point. Nobody chooses to have a dependency. Sure, there may have been poor choices that led to this point, but moralization does little to solve the problems of the here and now. Taking a pragmatic approach towards addiction is the only way to come up with solutions that will save lives, today. At the end of day, that is more important than upholding moral judgement against those whose lives are in danger.