Thursday, 12 September 2013

Paying the social and emotional price

As crude and grotesque displays go, one has to search far and wide to find a more blatant example than the recent rise of the pop starlet Miley Cyrus. The former Disney favourite has reinvented herself as a hyper sexualised and sexually available young woman and has done so at the expense of young women everywhere and modern culture at large. The purpose of this letter is not to tut at pop music or to enact a prudish or puritanical stance, sex and the popular song have been closely related since Ivor Novello penned his first tunes here in Cardiff a century ago. The reason why the Welsh Council on Alcohol and Other Drugs takes a position on this is because the wider culture that generates such banality is also responsible for immense emotional harm and dysfunction. It has long been understood that the simplistic notions of how people interact with role models that were dreamt up decades ago no longer apply, young people don’t simply absorb and directly emulate the actions of role models, it is in fact far more complex. When we see images of those who society and the media have validated by declaring them famous or celebrities we unconsciously take on the values that they seem to represent and of course for most of us the ‘ideals’ they represent are largely unobtainable. For those that can live up to what they are presented with a different problem exists, which is that of adopting the artifice (a tricky enough job for the celebrity, Norma Jean Baker, AKA Marilyn Monroe would frequently refer to the persona of Marilyn as ‘her’). We, as a society, encourage through subtle, silent and unconscious cues our young people to be something they are not. Our TV, internet and advertising creates a constant sense of lack, a constant sense of not-good-enough, and the reach of these messages increases year on year. When young people do act out these hyper sexualised roles they inevitably pay some social or emotional price, but the biggest of all is an alienation from self. So little is done in our society to encourage young people to develop and authentic and positive sense of who they are that pretense eventually becomes an accepted default setting and the burden of holding up this make believe for many becomes unbearable, resulting in the retreat to drugs, drink and other dysfunctional behaviours to numb the hurt. The fame of a few is bought at the price of the loneliness and confusion of the many and we as a society must try to engage in a meaningful discussion about how we engage our young in an exploration and appreciation of themselves, not the animated adverts for dysfunction they see on the screen.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

"Informed" decision making....

In the 1980s prior to the advent of Aids as a phenomenon, drugs became the moral panic of the decade, and, prior to the advent of the child molester, the drug dealer was the number one figure of fear and revulsion for polite society. Soap operas, documentaries and even Grange Hill featured this nihilistic pied piper, luring children and teenagers away to a life on the streets, enslaved to heroin forever. As with all moral panics, the fear over drugs was fuelled by the newspapers that searched for ever more lurid accounts of miss-spent youth, and as with all moral panics, it backfired spectacularly. Drug use continued to increase throughout the 80's, 90's and 2000's until we reached the addiction crisis we are familiar with now, but what is less well known was the progressive nationalisation of drug dealing that has occurred over that period. The biggest dispenser of opiates in the country, our very own bureaucratic Pablo Escobar, is, of course, the government, who this week ring fenced the funding for methadone, ensuring that the cycle of addiction will continue unbroken. It is an individual and social disaster, born of a toxic mix of political hubris and the imposition of medical doctrine on what is a spiritual and existential crisis. When Russell Brand, an advocate for abstinence based recovery, in his recent excellent documentary on addiction challenged a senior NHS official over the prescription of methadone, the response was revealing. The clinician told Brand that it was often better to keep an individual medicated with the watered down heroin substitute for long periods of time whilst their emotional pain was addressed, rather than risk the argument dried up? What is it the NHS is so afraid of? What might a drug addict, deprived of methadone, a drug, actually do? At the Living Room Cardiff we see former heroin addicts consistently battle to get away from methadone so they can be free of drugs and finally engage with and resolve their pain, free from the fog of addiction at last. Nothing can be achieved by keeping addicts addicted, there is no doubt that the intentions of doctors and specialists are benign and well intentioned, but they are based in an ignorance that is integral to the medical model of recovery. In any normal medical situation, diabetes or a broken wrist, a specialist with expert knowledge steps in and marginalises the patient’s involvement, carrying out the necessary procedure in as short a time as possible. When it comes to addiction, the 'patient' is the expert, an alcoholic or heroin addict knows more about addiction than a doctor (if he isn't an addict himself) ever will, so the entire process of prescribing a substance like methadone which will supposedly 'help' an addict becomes farcical. All it will do is lock the addict in the cycle of addiction permanently, and most heroin addicts supplement their methadone prescription with, yes, you guessed it, heroin. This means that the government's ill-informed and misguided approach to drugs actually helps fuel the black market in heroin by keeping it stocked with customers. By failing to listen to the real experts, dismissing them with a high handed elitism, the problem continues to grow and lives continue to be sacrificed. We spend nearly half a percent of our entire gross national product on drugs policy, the highest in Europe, with utterly dismal results, simply listening to addicts in recovery and understanding the truth about addiction would be a lot cheaper.

Monday, 2 September 2013

'We are the most addicted society in Europe' (Centre for Social Justice)

Addiction as a mass phenomenon has been with us for several decades, perhaps from the late 1960s onwards, reaching the current epidemic levels it has mushroomed into today. Previously, people not only lacked the means to drink as much as they do now (in a world of ever rising prices, alcohol and other drugs continue to buck the trend, drink is now cheaper in real terms than it has ever been), but if it were simply a matter of affordability, there would be no such thing as the homeless addict. Rapid changes in our society have made us more affluent, but have exposed us to perpetual round the clock advertising and marketing, selling us innumerable fantasies and dreams, reminding us on a daily basis in often subtle and invisible ways that we lack something, miss something, need something more. Often the structures of community and spiritual life that once gave meaning to existence beyond hedonism have crumbled away, but have not been replaced by anything that nurtures the individual and connects him or her to others. A banal and egocentric self-centred-ness has been elevated by television and political discourse to be a virtue, not a flaw and the results of this toxic brew have been revealed by a government think tank this week. We are the most addicted society in Europe, be it in legal highs, street drugs or alcohol (the research doesn't mention gambling, but this government and the last have both made creating gambling addicts for the bookies to exploit a special priority) according to the Centre for Social Justice, which estimates that addiction costs Britain £36 billion a year. These stark figures would tend to suggest to anyone with a modicum of intelligence that the government's drug policy has failed completely, but the official wisdom on how to treat addiction remains unchanged. Light touch regulation which allows the drinks trade to behave as it sees fit, combined with the criminalisation of other drugs to make millionaires out of a huge criminal class that recycles the money to finance every other kind of organised crime, allows the supply of addictive substances to flourish every year. At the other end of the addiction cycle, the government still insists on imposing a medical model of addiction on the growing numbers of addicts, where they are ministered unto by professionals who have no direct experience of addiction themselves. It is these experts who argue that a harm reduction approach, advising alcoholics to just try to have a few drinks instead of two bottles of vodka, is best. The only solution to alcoholism or any drug addiction is abstinence based recovery, one day at a time abstaining from intoxicating substances and working with other recoverers to build a new life from the ashes of the old. The Living Room Cardiff practices an abstinence based approach to recovery and it is a philosophy that needs to be adopted with more urgency now than ever before. Our society with all its constant demands on individuals to be smarter, funnier, better looking, richer, more successful and popular is an addict making machine, we have developed the settings on this machine to create a perpetual and ambient insanity that punishes children as they grow into adults for the crime of being who they are. This hurt is medicated in a myriad of different dysfunctional ways, leaving broken individuals, homes, families and communities. Not only is a different way of treating addicts needed, but a different language in society required in assessing the validity and worth of individuals.