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Taking Drugs Is Not a Disease

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With sessions still on-going at the Home Affairs Select Committee on Drugs, I thought I'd write a few words before they get round to publishing. Words are important. Labels are important. And it's my view that labelling drug addiction as a 'disease' is dangerous and wrong.

No-one I have known in my immediate family has, to the best of my knowledge, suffered from any serious addiction. These, however, are the boxes I can tick: alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling.

As far as drugs are concerned, cocaine and sleeping pills were my drugs of choice. And yes, it was a choice. I chose them. They did not choose me. It wasn't like I woke up one day and discovered I had this terrible 'disease' which wasn't my fault and for which I should receive your sympathy and compassion.

I agree that drug addiction should be dealt with by doctors and not by policemen. But we shouldn't make the mistake of labelling that addiction as a disease. Addiction is an illness caused by taking too many drugs for too long, the physical reaction to excessive use. I don't mean to be unsympathetic - I feel desperately sorry for the many vulnerable people who made the leap into drugs and slipped too far. All I'm saying here is that to call drug abuse a 'disease' is wrong.

This is more than just semantics. By labelling drug abusers as 'diseased,' we negate them from any real sense of responsibility for their individual actions. I'm all for a bit of love and compassion, but let's get real here and call things by their proper names. Taking drugs is avoidable, Parkinson's is not.

I can't stress this enough, but when you initially take drugs you are essentially making a life gamble: Can I handle this or not? If you can't, then you'll lose the bet and become an addict.

You may lose everything, including your life. If you're lucky - and many of us are - you won't. But the decision to take drugs is not ingrained in your DNA, it's not a genetic fault-line, it's just... a gamble. By calling it a 'disease' we're implying that in a drug-free parallel universe you'd still fall 'ill,' succumb to your 'disease' and start seeking out substances that you didn't even know existed.

Taking drugs is a decision, not a disease.

People use narcotics usually for one of two things - for the pursuit of pleasure, or to escape painful memories. And drugs can, initially, be great fun, and they can also be a vacuous obliteration. And then addiction can take over, at which point, sure, a medical condition results. But it's a choice first, and a condition later; let's not label the telephone call to your dealer a symptom of some greater 'disease.'

To think of my drug-taking activities as a medical condition is a complete cop-out. Did this disease make me roll up that ten pound note, stick it up my nose and snort a line of cocaine? Hardly. It was impulsive behaviour and impulsive behaviour is exactly that - behaviour.

In life, we define ourselves by what we do, and if we choose drugs, the choice is ours, not some indefinable, ethereal illness. There's no disease controlling me if I decide to chop out a line. For me, it was usually just a temporary error of judgement and an appetite for self-destruction. For others it may be something different, but whatever it is, it's got nothing to do with disease.

Someone like Russell Brand - curiously invited to speak to the Home Affairs Select Committee on Drugs - has received the best therapy money can buy, treatment which has succeeded, I believe, only in brainwashing him into thinking he's devoid of all responsibility for his actions. For someone so self-indulgent, that's the best medical diagnosis he could possibly have heard. No wonder he's embraced it so warmly.

When he appeared in parliament, Brand said that "the illegality makes no difference, the consequences in the country of origin makes no difference."

With the comforting blanket of having been told he has an illness, people like Russell can sleep soundly at night, for in his diseased heart he knows it was never his fault that blood was spilled in the poppy fields of Afghanistan to feed his former addiction. Perhaps a poverty-stricken drug mule died from ingesting a stash of the brown stuff destined for his front door. Well, don't look at Russell, it was beyond his control. Another contract killing in the slums of Rio? Nothing to do with Russell; please don't disturb him, he's dozing.

As long as the use of drugs is considered a disease then we are all blameless, we can all carry on obeying the higher calling of our 'illness' and stick another needle in our arm and to hell with the consequences. Leave us alone, we're stricken.

I'm not saying you should or shouldn't take drugs, but if we do then we should face the consequences of that drug use, deal with the guilt and shame, accept responsibility and know that you, that I, and that thousands of others have caused misery, both on our own doorstep and many miles away, to countless faceless, impoverished individuals.

During his appearance, Brand said "I think that there's a degree of cowardice and wilful ignorance around this condition..."

I couldn't agree more.

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