Drugs And The

The problem with the notion of 'addiction' is that it confounds two different types of epistemology within a single definition. Specifically, it involves two mutually exclusive conceptualisations of man/woman-kind; namely man/woman as machine (i.e. as a biological mechanism, the nature of which mechanism determines all activity, both mental and physical) and man/woman as decision-making entity capable of making autonomous choices and exercising acts of will. It should be clear from the outset that no individual responsibility can be attributed under the first model; whereas this is possible under the second, with the very notion of mens rea being central to certain aspects of the law. However, this illogical bringing together of two exclusive models is precisely why the 'addiction' concept has such social value, since it enables interested parties to hop between models to excuse or blame according to personal wish and circumstance. These issues have been specifically explored by Heim and colleagues (2001).

These issues have been discussed in detail in Davies (1998) but to cut a lengthy philosophical discussion short, we tend to regard people who (for example) drink normally as being able to make choices about whether to drink or not, when to stop, when to carry on. In other words, to behave like thinking beings capable of exercising acts of will in controlling their consumption; that is, doing 'what they want to do'. On the other hand, we tend to think of 'alcoholics' (an unpopular word these days) as using alcohol because they have to due to an underlying compulsive mechanism. In a similar way, drug 'addicts' are felt to use drugs compulsively even though they may be 'trying to stop'; that is, against their 'will'.

The problems and contradictions that arise in the legislation around drugs and drug use come about precisely because they attempt to tackle drug problems from both these perspectives simultaneously. The 'war on drugs' seeks to eradicate the supply of and trade in certain illegal substances, using all the powers of the law (up to and including the death penalty in some countries), on the mechanistic grounds that these substances have capacities to enslave and addict due to their particular pharmacologies. On the other hand, we hold individuals responsible for possession and for drug-related crimes, on the basis that they are responsible for these acts and therefore merit punishment. To put this very succinctly, the definition has nothing to do with 'science', but represents the cobbling together of two exclusive social constructions; namely, drug use as mechanism, and drug use as act of choice or volition.

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