Should society disapprove of addiction?

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on June 24th, 2011 - Last updated: January 31st, 2014
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I was chastized by several heroin addicts — men I like and respect — for a statement I made that society should indeed disapprove of addiction. Of course I don’t myself look down upon drug addicts — especially since I was one for most of my life (and maybe still am, in the sense that I’d be deathly afraid to take so much as a single puff of a tobacco cigarette, for fear of relapsing — and I haven’t touched one since May 1, 1982) — and I don’t recommend that others look down upon them/us either.

Can we agree that being addicted to one or more drugs is not good for either the person so addicted or for society as a whole? If so, what should the correct attitude be for society to take towards drug addicts? Do they deserve applause for the choices they have made? Do I deserve to be for congratulated for the great job I did of becoming addicted to nicotine? In fact I now regard it as the worst single mistake I ever made in my entire life, and, I’ll bet the same is true for how heroin addicts feel about the decisions they made about heroin. I’m grateful that the state in its wisdom didn’t decide to put me in prison to help me get over my addiction — instead I was allowed to get a good education — but I know that the disapproval of my daughter and others had at least something to do with enabling me to finally work up the determination — the will power, if you will — to quit altogether.

After thinking about it at some considerable length, I’ve decided to stick with the statement — my belief — that it society as a whole is correct to strongly disapprove of drug addicts and drug addiction. That is, so long as we don’t disapprove so strongly that we make criminals of them/us. Put that way, it seems to me the onus should be on addicts to explain why society’s response should be different.

G. Alan Robison
Executive Director
Drug Policy Forum of Texas


I couldn’t have said this better myself. Being addicted isn’t anything to be proud of. Ceasing to be addicted is. We shouldn’t imprison people for being addicts (assuming they otherwise behave responsibly) and we should provide life-saving functions for them (like medical care and needle exchanges). And we shouldn’t force them into treatments which want to make them better human beings. But we should regret their addiction and think and want them to be capable of quitting it and of whatever better things their lives require, just as they must feel these things if they are ever to cease being addicts.


Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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