I trained as a nurse and worked with many vulnerable people facing negative consequences of substance misuse. The punitive punishment our system dishes out only serves to further isolate, stigmatize and punish those who are suffering the most. I also have family and friends who have been in recovery for more than 20 years. They are some of our lucky ones who bypassed the appalling prison system when found guilty of ‘drug offences’. They received counselling and help to move beyond their trauma and pain. They were supported to become healthy, whole and valued members of the community.
I cannot say it better than Dr. Gabor Mate;
“It is time to realize, that addiction is neither a choice nor an inherited disease, but a psychological and physiological response to painful life experiences. It can take many forms, but whatever form it takes:
• it employs the same neurological pathways and emotional patterns;
• the damage it does extends well beyond the suffering imposed by drug use specifically;
• to ostracize the drug addict as somehow different from the rest of us is arrogant and arbitrary;
• to criminalize certain substances, say heroin, while allowing the profitable distribution of more deadly products such as cigarettes is irrational and harmful—yes, though it may be a startling assertion it is medically a simple fact: heroin use, short of overdose, is far less lethal than cigarette smoke;
• to treat the addiction, which is a symptom, without treating the pain that underlies it is to deal in effects rather than in causes, and therefore dooms many to ongoing cycles of suffering.
Finally, a word about childhood trauma and its relation to addiction and the use of substances. When people see this word, they often— perhaps naturally—assume that we are speaking of terrible events, such as abuse, sexual exploitation, the death of parents, violence in the home, and so on. And surely, as the research abundantly shows, the more such experiences a child has to endure, the exponentially greater his or her risk of addiction. But trauma is not restricted to horrific experiences. It refers to any set of events that, over time, impose more pain on the child than his or her sensitive organism can process and discharge"