More and more the drug addict is becoming both an avant-garde hero and modern scapegoat. The writing of Jack Gelber, William Burroughs, Alexander Trocchi and others has stimulated interest in the lives of “junkies.” Hipsters, according to Norman Mailer, may even view the use of opiates as part of a “new radicalism”—inspired by their belief in the current futility of strictly political dissent. (This really is “the end of ideology” with a vengeance!) At the same time, we continue to be bombarded with inflammatory press accounts vilifying the addict as public-enemy-number one; often these diatribes emanate from the very officials who are supposed to be seeking solutions to the addiction problem. While racial and religious scapegoating are now out of date, to condemn the addict remains respectable (and this, in turn, may well explain the glorification of the junkie in bohemian circles). Both of these views are unfortunate, because they obscure the basic facts about our failure to formulate a sane addiction policy.
Through research in various fields we now know a good deal about the nature of addiction, and what we know suggests that the addict, as such, tends to be neither hero nor menace. We know that the truly addictive opiate-type drugs (heroin, morphine, etc.) slow a person down rather than pep him up; hence it just isn’t true that addicts are violent criminals and sex fiends. We know that the person who takes opiates over a substantial period of time develops a tolerance to his drug (he needs more and more, at first to achieve the desired effect and later just to stay normal) and finally an actual physical dependence (that is, when deprived of the drug he experiences an excruciating physical illness referred to as the “abstinence syndrome” or “withdrawal illness”). We know that the depressant effects of opiates may imperil job efficiency (as well as sexual activity)—though there have been notable cases of creative production and competence on the part of long-time addicts. And finally, we know that there is no simple medical “cure” for addiction. While we have developed relatively painless ways of gradually withdrawing the addict from drugs, this is no real solution. There is no sure way of erasing from the treated addict’s mind the knowledge that at one time narcotics solved certain problems for him or offered him distinct satisfactions. Further studies into the causes of addiction reveal, not surprisingly, divergent theories which reflect the professional orientations of the persons doing the research. The psychiatrist attributes addiction to underlying mental disturbance, while other researchers stress situational factors and subcultural influences. Some sociologists feel that rather than seeking to isolate the recurring “causes” in individual cases of addiction, we should concentrate on the general process by which all these indivi...
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