The War on Drugs has generated unique challenges for those who wish to help a loved one through their addiction. A combination of stigmas, public policies, and increased stakes (e.g. legally) have made drug interventions serious, but essential, option for those who see a loved one in trouble.
In order to help make sense of how the War on Drugs and drug interventions fit into today’s society, consider the following:
The War on Drugs has Caused a National Dialogue About Drugs
Overall, the national dialogue that has been generated as a result of the War on Drugs has some benefits. The problem that many addicts once faced is out in the open, and it is easier for loved ones to identify the signs that someone they care about needs their help.
At the same time, however, the War on Drugs has dramatically increased the risk of legal problems as a result of drug use. Often it becomes a race between loved ones intervening in time, and the law catching up with “criminal” drug users.
The Stigma of Criminality
Perhaps the biggest issue that arises as a result of the War on Drugs is the very fact that drug use is criminalized instead of being treated as a medical or psychological issue. In the past, the government would only go after the major manufacturers and distributors of drugs.
Today, however, there are many places in the United States where even being caught with a small amount of marijuana can result in felony convictions and jail time, effectively rendering that individual’s standing in society permanently and irreparably damaged.
Fortunately, there are some states that are beginning to shift drug laws more towards decriminalization, but the process is still far from over. This emphasizes the importance of intervening early enough to save a loved one from the stigma of being a convicted criminal for the rest of his or her life.
Impact on the family
The War on Drugs also makes it difficult for some families to properly deal with a loved one that is an addict.
If a drug addiction were thought of as a medical issue, they would see drug interventions and other crisis interventions as simply helping a loved one in need.
With the criminality element brought in, however, it can often feel as if the family has “failed” the addict. This is particularly true for the parents of addicts.
Ultimately, the consequences are much higher
The War on Drugs raises the stakes in such a way that many addicts or almost-addicts are afraid or ashamed to speak with their family and friends about their problem. If drug addiction were treated as a medical problem (similarly to heart disease or cancer) instead of as a criminal act, addicts would be more inclined to reach out before it was too late. Instead, the War on Drugs can lead to denial on the part of the addict, and an exacerbation of the problem.
For better or for worse, the War on Drugs is not going anywhere soon, even though there is some hope on the horizon that decriminalization might eventually gain some traction. For the time being, however, the responsibility is on family and friends to be vigilant and hold a family intervention before the law catches up with the addict.