At the end of the day – whether or not a person wants to drink too much, or use drugs, is pretty much a personal decision – right? It’s their body, it’s their life – it’s their decision.
Maybe – it’s certainly something that a concerned family may hear when attempting to convince an addict to get help. It’s certainly something someone trapped in the self-delusion of the disease might spout – and even believe.
But is it true?
If you drink alone, hermit like in a remote cabin, never seeing another soul – then OK, it’s your business. You hurt no one but yourself, and it’s no one’s business but yours.
So alcoholic hermits aside…
- If you drink to a stupor each night in front of your family, in front of your kids – even if you do no immediate wrongs – you model something terrible. Do you have the right? Does it become the family’s business at that point?
- If your substance use prevents you from getting or keeping a job, from providing for yourself and your family – do those that would subsidize your existence have the right to tell you what you can and cannot put in your body?
We live together, as family, as a community, and our actions and choices affect those around us. Those that drink or drug heavily impact the rest of us, whether painfully in the family, or through social costs in the community. We have the right to demand change – it is our business, it’s everyone’s business.
We don’t have the right to demand impossible change though. Addiction is a disease, entrenched and enduring, and you can’t just will it away. We can demand change in the family, we can demand change in the community, but first, we must provide a means for change.
We, as a society, can say that alcoholic level drinking is unacceptable. It does harm to more than just the individual, and we are not going to stand for it anymore. We can divert some of the ludicrous quantities of money going into our prison system (we now incarcerate 1 in 100) and build 1000 new treatment centers – and we can make people use them. If we can put someone in jail for the possession of a small quantity of crack – why can’t we save through enforced healthcare those that would abuse even legal drugs, such as alcohol?
It would save money in the long run – it would save lives right away. Sure it’s an ethical minefield, and committing people to hospitals does sound a bit scary – a bit too "One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest" for comfort. It wouldn’t be easy. But we could do it and maybe we should.