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Do We Only Have One Presidential Candidate Who Understands Addiction?

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 10/11/2015 Anna David
VITAMINS © Sorin Popa via Getty Images VITAMINS

Okay, so we had Hillary touting medication-assisted treatment and Carly Fiorina claiming that alcoholism isn't a big deal while pot smoking is. Now we've got Dr. Ben Carson giving a CBS host his take on addiction.
When Carson was asked for his reaction to the news that a New Hampshire poll determined the biggest problem facing the state is drug addiction, he responded that the issue is that the U.S. border with Mexico hasn't been secured. Oh, and also that addiction occurs in "people who are vulnerable, who are lacking something in their lives."
The Media Response: Carson, You're an Idiot
The reactions to Carson's assertions have been swift -- and vicious. "It would actually be easier to believe that he is some guy CBS pulled off the street, injected him with horse tranquilizers, and then conducted an interview ... [rather] ... than ... an actual neurosurgeon running for president," wrote Joe Fletcher on a site called AddictingInfo. Fletcher's opinions were echoed elsewhere and many of these other responses point out that Carson's comments are especially egregious since they're coming on the heels of the report that record numbers of middle-aged white American men are dying as a result of addiction.
Am I the Lone Dissenter?
I'm honestly not that concerned with Carson's opinions about addiction and don't think they're entirely wrong. From what I've seen, addiction does occur in people who are vulnerable and lacking something in their lives. As I said when I wrote about the middle-aged white men study, I believe alcoholism is a genetic predisposition that is either exacerbated or diminished by what happens to us during our formative years. By this definition, it can be caused by the lack of a great many things -- everything from a genetic inability to handle the sort of slings and arrows that non-alcoholics can to proper parenting to a myriad of other possibilities.
Alcoholism is not diagnosed by how many glasses of Chardonnay a person downs, whether or not they've racked up DUIs or if they've shot heroin until their arms have abscesses. It's about the way they think -- the sort of "I'm not much but I'm all I think about" mentality that diabolically combines self-obsession with self-hatred. Disease? Sure. I believe thinking like that, and pursuing intoxication as a way to drown it out, is a disease in that it isn't really a matter of choice anymore. But how can I say? Dr. Marc Lewis sure makes some decent arguments against calling addiction a disease. Yet ultimately I don't really think it matters. You've either got skin cancer or you don't; who cares whether you got it because you sunbathed with Crisco or just because you were unlucky?
As for vulnerability -- well, this is a semantics issue but I'm going to assume that Carson meant sensitivity since I'm not sure vulnerability could mean anything else without a modifier after it. Well, God knows every alcoholic I've ever been around is incredibly sensitive. Could this quality cause them to drink or do drugs alcoholically? In my opinion, yes.
It's His Drug War Stance That's Ignorant
My issue with the good doctor's assertions doesn't have to do with his so-called medical diagnosis of addiction but with what he said about the Mexican border. Because here's the thing about drug addiction: It has little to do with the availability of drugs. While legalization has contributed to a growing number of pot smokers, the problem isn't that you can go pick pot up at a store with a green leaf in the window; it's that legalizing sends a message to the world that smoking pot is completely benign. While sure, it isn't a big deal for many, that's not the case for everyone -- particularly for kids whose brains aren't fully formed.
In other words, addicts find drugs whether they're readily accessible or not. We're determined folk and I don't know a single addict who had trouble getting a hold of anything they wanted no matter how challenging the circumstances. And we're efficient, too. About six months before I got sober, when I was an active coke addict, I went to Paris with my mom and step-dad. I wasn't brave or stupid enough to bring drugs on the plane and so, the first night I got there, I went to a bar with the sole purpose of finding people who did it. It took me roughly 20 minutes and I spent the whole trip hanging out with that crowd.
But Then There Was One
Amidst all of this political mishigas came Chris Christie's now well-known speech in a New Hampshire town hall meeting the week before last where he talked about the lack of stigma against his mother's addiction to smoking vs. the judgment around his friend from law school who became addicted to opiates. His point -- that addiction is addiction and the less we judge any of it, the better able we will be to help addicts -- is important and has now been widely heard. The point is this: All politicians have their agendas to push; some are just better informed on the issues they're speaking about than others, and the one who knows about addiction happens to be moving to the back of the line while Carson moves forward. Fiorina was pushing her agenda when she used the example of her stepdaughter's death to talk about legalization and Carson is now doing the same in terms of the drug war.
While they're doing this out of ignorance and not evil intentions, ignorance combined with the world's attention can nevertheless have some pretty evil aftereffects.
This post originally appeared on AfterPartyMagazine.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.

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