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OF ALL the many terrible attributes of addiction one which can be the most painful is being not understood and being blamed for one’s own misfortune. Stigma against all mental health problems abounds in our society. It can heap on an ill person the vicious taunts of those who state or imply that she or he is worthless, scum, a moral weakling, something unclean. Indeed an addict is weak but not in those ways. More weak in the way that anyone who is ill becomes weak. Bullies, of course, choose weak and vulnerable people as their targets.

Imagine giving someone with an alcohol problem a bottle of whiskey as a present. Then imagine that the person who drinks the stuff becomes very ill, maybe even dies. Then the fool who gave them the alcohol says in defence, “Well, they didn’t have to drink it. I didn’t make them. They could have given it to the local church as a prize in their raffle.”

It is unfeasible to think that substances like alcohol or other drugs will ever go away, and addiction is likely to always be a problem. But to deliberately and knowingly provide someone who is the vulnerable state of addiction with a product that is deadly to them, while not illegal, is morally reprehensible. The fact that you cannot stop the production and distribution of alcohol and other hard drugs does not remove your responsibility, your moral responsibility, to do whatever you can to limit access by those in danger. Any decent person would surely be appalled if just that was being done by high street business brands.

The very nature of addiction is that it robs a person, disowns them, of their power of responsibility. It literally embeds neural pathways which disrupt inhibition while enhancing compulsive excitation circuits. There are thousands of research studies about the nature of addiction, but those in recent years which use brain scanning are pointing more and more to precise neural substrates which are involved. Whether addiction is ’caused’ by social factors, adverse childhood experiences, culture, experiential learning, genetics or some combination of these is not the point: the result is the same.

While the good news is that many, probably the majority, of people with addiction can and do recover – often with no support from agencies or health providers – the fact is inescapable that people who are totally at any given time pierced by addiction are vulnerable to exploitation. To say that society should provide opportunities for individual recovery is a good thing. But it is a very bad thing for society to turn its back on the merest whiff of business or industry deliberately exploiting human misery. It is the responsibility of every citizen to fight such evils.