Name: Alyssa Lisle
From: Pittsburgh, PA
It is well known that addiction is correlated with social ills such as poverty and mental illness. It is nearly impossible to separate poverty, mental illness, and addiction, amongst other social ills, from systemic barriers to equity, such as racism and sexism, as well as the growing wealth gap within the United States. I believe that, as socioeconomic classes become more stratified, those in lower economic classes feel more of a burden in working long hours at strenuous jobs for little pay and little to no hope of advancement in their career. The perceived hopelessness of their situation may lead to the use of maladaptive coping skills, such as self-harm, over- or under-indulgence in food and exercise, or substance use. The longer people feel hopeless about their future and their ability to escape their situation, the less motivation there is to stop using the vice that makes life a little more bearable, leading to high levels of addiction.
Addiction has multiple consequences, both for society and the individual. For the individual, the most drastic consequence is the potential for death, whether from an overdose or withdrawal. Many substances have adverse health impacts aside from the risk of death, such as increased risk of heart attack or stroke, seizures, and brain damage, all of which negatively impact an individual’s well-being and quality of life. Substance use may also impede an individual’s ability to progress in a career, develop meaningful relationships with others, and truly enjoy life. At the societal level, addiction decreases productivity and economic growth, however, may also inhibit entrepreneurial and creative development. The inhibition of innovation may have catastrophic effects on the health and well-being of societies or the world.
I believe that more radical approaches are needed in order to assist those struggling with addiction. I think the best steps would be to decriminalize drug use, and rather than spending money to incarcerate those using substances, divert funding to holistic care focused on harm-reduction. This may mean an increase in rehabilitation centers, inpatient treatment facilities, and mobile crisis units, but could also look like clean needle exchanges and safe spaces to utilize substances with trained professionals present in order to provide life-saving interventions. This could also increase training for law enforcement professionals to better serve and assist those struggling with addiction and mental illness, as well as the addition of licensed mental health professionals in all law enforcement units. A reduction in incarcerations and increase in mental health treatment would not only benefit those struggling with addiction, but the entire country and, due to the economic interdependence of nations, the world.