Fighting Addiction: The Individual, Family, Community and Government

A recent tragedy in my extended family has spurred some thoughts regarding addiction. A relative of ours overdosed on drugs. It’s not clear whether it was intentional or if it was a “hot” batch of drugs that took his life. His recent discussions with family members seemed to indicate he was remorseful, recognized that what he was doing was harmful to himself and others, and that he wanted to change.

My relative admitted feeling incapable of overcoming his addiction to drugs. His mind and heart wanted to “get clean,” but he felt his physical body was too addicted to ever get free. He may have been right. This is a very personal, heart-felt tragedy affecting his family and friends who sacrificed and gave so much to a dear loved one.

There are many costs of addiction but, to me, the harshest is the loss in potential good an addict might have done were he or she free of the addiction. One of Sutherland’s core principles is personal responsibility. We need each other. We need the best of each other.

We all suffer when individuals are so damaged by addiction that the vast majority of their energy is expended on themselves, or we must step in when they can’t take care of themselves. On the other hand, we all receive a true benefit when individuals’ physical, mental and social health frees them to look outside of themselves to lift others through innovation, work, reason, relationships and charity.

Communities are weakened when too many individuals “take” because of self-imposed need instead of “give” from abundant personal and physical resources that are the result of personal responsibility, self-reliance, wise choices and self-control.

Another principle of authentic conservatism Sutherland espouses is family. In the case of my relative, his family did all it could to help him turn his life around. His immediate family, cousins, uncles, and others worked with him, stood by him, counseled him and remained loyal throughout his struggle.

Photo credit: Steve Polyak

Members of strong families can help each other withstand the stresses of life in a way no other people or institution can. Still, families can gain additional support from other societal institutions, such as religious groups, clinics and support groups.

But what if the family relationship is strained or broken and none of these supports are available? What if religious assistance is not available? What if an addict cannot afford or gain access to private clinics or support groups? Does government then have a role?

Is a community neglectful of its most vulnerable citizens if, when family and private institutions fail, government does not fill the need? Is this a proper role for government? What are the roles of individual choice and personal accountability? These are complex questions. What are your thoughts?