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?

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  • Steve G.

    These are very hard situations. My heart goes out to
    your family. I am glad to see that Sutherlands is willing to look at this issue
    and realize its complexity. I have worked in this field some as a Registered
    Nurse, but I am not an expert. Of course the best option is for families to
    help their members develop the strength and resilience to deal with life without
    developing addictive behaviors. But as you are aware, in the world we live in
    even, good families can be and are effected. Of course individuals should take
    personal responsibility for their choices, but every individual has there own
    life situations and challenges to deal with. One persons experiences can not
    make them a useful judge of an others life. We all make dumb choices in
    our lives, to one person a dumb choice may lead to an experience that they
    learn from and decide to avoid and the same choice by another individual leads
    right into addiction. Drugs are not the only thing that people are addicted to.
    Porn is another one that is often talked about, but hate and bigotry and narrow
    mindedness are also common addictions. The best option is probably for individuals
    and families who are dealing with addictions to take advantage of any good help
    that might assist them in overcoming this challenge. That can come from
    extended family, community, religious, or governmental sources. We live in an
    imperfect world and some of these recourses may be of greater value than others
    and all of them may be able to be improved. We need to realize that addictions
    can be very hard to overcome and though there are quite a few success stories
    there are many that can not make it out. It is important to recognize the
    efforts to help and the addict’s efforts to overcome and realize that even in good
    families and good individuals who get trapped in these situations that things
    do not always turn out in this life as we would choose. We are not the
    final Judge. Thanks for being willing to raise our awareness of this issue.