The Conservative government is breeding addiction

In the Tory leadership race following the collapse of Theresa May’s premiership, Michael Gove found himself embroiled in controversy after admitting to past cocaine use. But he didn’t fall short of testifying his repentance to his standpat voter base:

“I took drugs on several occasions at social events more than 20 years ago. At the time I was a young journalist. It was a mistake. I look back and I think, I wish I hadn’t done that.” But why did Gove regret this? It doesn’t seem to have had any adverse effect on his life, given his success at becoming a politician (in fact, a lot of our lives would probably be a lot better-off if burgeoning young conservatives spent more time partying and doing drugs rather than becoming politicians). I think it’s fair to presume that it was because it makes him look bad in the eyes of Tory voters. Not because there’s something inherently morally wrong with simply taking cocaine, but because of the stigma attached to it. At a Tory leadership hustings in Darlington, Rishi Sunak (assumedly in a bid to become king of the neeks after his efforts at becoming the next PM started to falter) said“Drugs are horrific. There is nothing recreational about them. I have never taken them and I will be incredibly tough on anyone who does.” What is clear, then, is that (conservative) British society says drug (ab)use is socially corrosive, irresponsible, undignified, a personal failure. 

Neoliberal logic treats anything it can, as a personal issue with no relevance to the wider political and economic context. In doing so, it shirks the responsibility the state has regarding its citizenry. By discursively keeping addiction within the personal, mental health, criminal, and/or moral spheres, the government can avoid tackling the root of the issue. To their credit the government is expected to massively increase investment in addiction recovery-related services. Its just a shame it will be in tandem with a “Tough Consequences” scheme that aims to deter people from drug use through a range of potential civil penalties. These could include fines, curfews, or, in the most exceptional cases, the temporary removal of driving licences or passports. Any recovering addict reading this will laugh at the suggestion that a fine would’ve curbed their drug use. But this best-of-both-worlds solution of treating addiction as both a mental health and criminal issue still places the emphasis on the personal, rather than the political. Any good doctor will tell you some variation of “prevention is the best medicine,” so perhaps instead of constantly asking how we tackle the symptoms of addiction (which communities of addicts figured out almost a century ago), we should be asking what is causing the issue.  It is my contention that a major cause—the only cause that’s ignored — is the political status quo. The result of free-market economics in general alongside right-wing economic policies.

Free-market economics orients us away from community and spirituality and towards self-interest and greed. Developing interpersonal connections through cooperation with others is too great a burden on furthering our own goals. Spirituality too is an inconvenience, for the individual must be above all else; above community, above nature, above other individuals. By construing addiction as a wholly personal issue, we neglect to address the social and economic factors that breed it. Addiction cannot simply be read on the level of the individual suffering from a disease; it is symptomatic of a malaise ruthlessly generated and exploited by Capitalism, in what we hope to be its late-stage. 

There is no universal account of the life of an addict. We all have our differences, but we stress the importance of finding our similarities. If there is one ubiquitous similarity of addiction, I would argue that it is the desire—the need—to “escape”; from our minds, our reality, our past, present, and future. When I was at the height of my addiction, I was working full-time in retail with a tyrant for a manager. I had dropped out of university the year before and didn’t feel like I had the (financial) resources to go back. I was lonely, hopeless, and desperate. I found solace in drugs. I didn’t necessarily enjoy using them so much—in fact, I didn’t really even want to use them—but I hated being sober even more. One of the reasons I was hesitant to start recovery was the thought that my life would be the same but even more unbearable because I would actually have to experience it without mental alteration. But what I found was a community that wanted to help me, one that promotes honesty, love, and spirituality – essential components for the human eschewed by a capitalist society. I found in recovery what I was searching for in drugs: an escape from the hopeless, lonely void of neoliberalism. 

Chart: ONS

If we use ONS data of the deaths from “drug misuse” as a baseline for measuring rates of addiction, then the desire to escape has been rapidly increasing since 2012, two years after the Tories took control of the government and began implementing austerity measures which saw a rise in childhood poverty, homelessness, and food bank usage. Conservative economic policies are not only failing under the so-called “cost of living crisis,” they have been failing the British people for the past decade. With the ongoing “cost of living crisis,” Brits are facing an unprecedented risk of not being able to afford to live (the literal meaning of the term). The future prospects alone are enough to drive anyone to want to escape, but the harsh realities of daily life under an 80% increase on energy bills in October and massive cuts to public spending under Truss may prove to be fatal. Now more than ever, we need cooperation and generosity to provide a backbone for strong communities and, most importantly, to prioritise people over profit. 

Article by Ethan Almond


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