The original and unique Russell Brand spoke today at a parliamentary select committee today on addiction. Accompanying him was Chip Somers the chief executive of Focus 12 abstinence based treatment centre in the UK. (Full discloser: I trained as a therapist at Focus 12, it is an awesome facility with really dedicated staff. Hundreds of people have got clean and sober there over the years.)
Unlike the USA, the UK has a focus on harm minimisation as a primary form of treatment. This means in most cases, prescribed substances such as methadone are given to addicts as an alternative to using heroin. Thus minimising the harm of getting and using illegal drugs. Alcoholics are given drugs like anti-abuse that makes the alcoholic really sick if they drink alcohol. I think harm minimisation has its place; however in the UK all it seems to have done is replaced illegal drugs with state sponsored ones. Thus making the taxpayer the dealer. Sadly, abstinence from all mood and mind altering drugs, including prescribed ones, seems to be the very last resort for many treatment providers in the UK.
I have worked with many addicts and alcoholics who want to stop taking all drugs (especially the prescribed ones), they want to treat the root of the problem and overcome their addiction not mask it with other substances. As Russell charmingly points out, he became an addict because of “emotional and psychology difficulties and perhaps a spiritual malady.” Yet this is still not understood and there isn’t enough provision for abstinence-based treatment. The US is ahead of the UK in accepting that addiction is a disease and that abstinence is the only effective form of treatment for this disease. I don’t think this is the case yet in the UK where (judging from the comments left after the article in the Telegraph) people still believe it is a moral issue and a question of choice. This is not to absolve the addict or alcoholic of responsibility; rather it is absolutely their responsibility to do something about their disease. But they can’t do it alone. They need help. Lots of it.