Pining for a Brain Tumor


A new ad campaign from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America insists that "drug addiction is a disease"—no, wait, it's actually worse than a disease, because when you have cancer or AIDS, at least people recognize that you're sick and in need of treatment, and they're sympathetic. In a TV spot and a series of print ads (links to the right of the news story), shirtless addicts of various ages, sexes, and colors cut the line in front of Stan Marsh's dad, declaring they'd be "better off" if they had a brain tumor, cancer, AIDS, or heart disease. I suspect people with brain tumors, cancer, AIDS, or heart disease would disagree.

The Houston Chronicle reports that the "Hope, Help, and Healing" campaign, which is about to go national after being test-marketed in Houston and Cincinnati, grew out of research finding that "the public has a denial or lack of understanding about addiction as a chronic but treatable illness." Or maybe the public just disagrees with the contention that excessive use of psychoactive substances is a disease. As Thomas Szasz observes, one hallmark of a true disease is that people are not constantly insisting that it really is a disease. To its credit, the Chronicle quotes Stanton Peele and other critics of the disease model (and the war on drugs), noting that "some groups skeptical of the addiction-as-a-disease paradigm worry the partnership's message uses pseudoscience to oversimplify the complexities of drug use and addiction."

Leaving aside the scientific, conceptual, and moral issues, I'm not convinced that viewing addiction as a disease leads to less oppressive policies, as opposed to giving the war on drugs a kinder, gentler veneer by calling coercive re-education treatment instead of punishment. But let's take the Partnership for a Drug-Free America at its word: Addiction is a disease just like cancer or AIDS. Do police arrest people for having cancer or AIDS? Do doctors treat people for cancer or AIDS against their will? Are people with cancer or AIDS disqualified from various professions because the government refuses to license them? Until the partnership's prohibitionist propagandists start taking on these policies, I can't even give them credit for believing their own bullshit.

[via Luke Wilson at Rehabology]