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When we look around today, it is easy to see the ravages of alcohol and drug abuse. Substance abuse has afflicted our society in many ways. People of every age, ethnicity, and background have struggled to stop the abuse of drugs and alcohol. This has also been reflected in the billions of dollars that have been spent to both prevent and treat those addicted to alcohol and drugs.
Alcohol and drug abuse is nothing new, however. In fact, people have been using mind-altering substances since the beginning of time. Archaeological evidence has found the remains of psychoactive plants like poppies that date back to thousands of years before the Common Era. And even major historical groups like the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, all used various substances like wine and opium to change their state of mind.
When we gained an understanding of drugs, however, and gained the ability to synthesize new, more potent versions of old drugs is when drug addiction truly became a plague. In the 19th century, science started to allow us to understand what it was about the poppy or coca plants that made them addictive. At that point, those substances could be isolated and new drugs formed.
This new chemical understanding led to the development of drugs like cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and prescription drugs like Oxycontin. At first, drugs like cocaine and heroin were included in over-the-counter medicines and sold to cure every affliction from a cough to old age. Of course these medicines sold well because people really did seem to feel better when they took them. Little did they know that what they were taking was actually a highly addictive drug.
This led to thousands of opium and cocaine addicts in United States at the turn of the 20th century, and to the first anti-drug legislation. Over the 20th century that legislation grew more stringent, and of course we saw the prohibition of alcohol during that century as well. All of these prohibition efforts only seemed to strengthen the drug trade, however. Drugs and alcohol became something of a forbidden fruit, and a black market arose that sucked in more addicts than ever before.
Of course alcohol never underwent the chemical revolution mentioned above. We knew all about the distillation of spirits for hundreds of years by the time the 20th century hit. However, as alcohol production grew and more people gained access to bars and/or their own liquor supply, people had more opportunities to drink. Additionally, because alcohol was produced for a fairly low price, more people could afford it.
During the twentieth century, we saw all of these factors come together to produce the worst alcohol and drug abuse we've ever seen. Not only has alcohol become a scourge among our youth and adults, but the use of other drugs in combination with alcohol is a serious problem. Perhaps of the greatest concern are prescription painkillers, which now kill more people every year than heroin and cocaine combined.
The question is: with such a long history behind it, how do we go about stopping alcohol and drug abuse? This question is not easily answered, but there are some rational approaches. One is to stop imprisoning addicts and starting to get them serious treatment for their drug or alcohol problems. As it stands, we see the same people cycling throughout the prison system. They are released then put back in jail for another drug charge, but they are never treated for their affliction.
Another approach involves education, but not the type that is currently being provided. Children and adults need to be provided with rational information about drugs. Studies have shown that scare tactics do not work, yet that is the approach currently used by anti-drug organizations in the United States. A much more effective approach is to give people sound information about the consequences of alcohol and drug abuse, while explaining the real reasons why people are drawn to it. Pretending there is no euphoria associated with drug use makes students mistrust official agencies when they find out otherwise from their friends.
The road to defeating alcohol and drug abuse is a long, uphill one. But with the proper approach we can weaken this scourge. By using effective treatment and education, we can expect to see fewer numbers of addicts throughout the world.
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