Christie Speaks Humanely About Addiction

by Alan Eggleston

Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ)

Photo by Wikimedia under Creative Commons license.

There isn’t much that I agree with Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) on. But on the effects and the ineffectiveness of the treatment of drug addiction, we apparently agree. A talk Christie gave recently that was posted on the Huffington Post has now been viewed three million times. If you watch the video, you will see why — it is a very humane approach to the entire topic of addiction, be it to drugs, alcohol, or tobacco.

This is related to a topic I addressed in my article yesterday: We can agree to disagree on many things, but on those issues to which we agree, let’s find a way to take action.

I’m mildly addicted to chocolate. I once gave it up for a whole year and when I didn’t notice much of an effect, I tried a piece to see if I noticed a change. I was immediately hooked again. I had a devil of a time giving it up again. This, of course, is nothing like an addiction to heroin, crack cocaine, tobacco, or alcohol. But it gave me the tiniest inkling of what it might be like to be addicted to something truly strong.

My late father was addicted to tobacco — nicotine, actually. At the height of his addiction, he smoked a few packs of cigarettes a day, having started smoking when he joined the Army during World War II. When I was a boy, my father smoked incessantly. He smoked when he got up in the morning, he smoked after meals, he smoked when he drove, he smoked in the evening while watching television. He smoked at restaurants. I remember him smoking right next to me in the car, even when I asked him to stop because the smoke bothered me. I have asthma today because I was constantly within breathing distance of his second hand smoke. Although my father became angry whenever I brought up studies that showed that smoking was bad for his health, and just as much so when I told him that second hand smoke was bad for me, I know he didn’t smoke in my presence out of ill regard for me; it was because he was addicted to the nicotine and couldn’t stop. He was a denier of all the facts about smoking as a defense against his addiction.

We shouldn’t judge people who are addicted to substances, and that’s part of what Governor Christie is saying. We shouldn’t harshly incarcerate people because they deserve what they freely choose to do. Most people don’t choose to become addicted. Most are deniers. They refuse to believe that they themselves will become addicted — it will never happen to them; they’re too strong or they’re too young or they have better DNA. But then it does happen to them, and then it’s too late. We see it happen to people all the time. And try as they may, these people can’t overcome the addiction without help. It’s help they need, not our condemnation and not jail.

I watched my father try to kick his nicotine addiction multiple times. I’ve watched others try to kick it, multiple times, too. It took a stroke to help my father kick the nicotine habit, cold turkey.

The first step in helping others kick their habit, whatever it is, is to stop judging them for it. The second step is to get them help, not throw them in jail, where their habit will be reinforced and where jail time will make it impossible forever after to get a job, live a normal life, and kick the habit while contributing positively to society. And that’s really the other part of Christie’s message: The current method of dealing with drug addiction isn’t working.

There is evidence that people on the left and the right acknowledge that incarceration for drug (and other) addiction isn’t working. We need to find common ground and solve this the intelligent, humane way. Do it in a way that not only gets people off their addictions, but also makes it possible to live good, just, socially responsible lives. There are a lot of reasons people become addicted to the various substances.  Perhaps Governor Christie’s talk is a beginning to address all of it.

While I don’t agree with Christie on a lot, I apparently agree with him on this, and I applaud him for speaking out on this issue.

© 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

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