Drug legalisation and recovery

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Telephone-boxBill White reminds us of something that seems to have been forgotten in the debate around legalisation of cannabis – the impact this might have on recovering people. He focuses on the current changing picture in the USA around cannabis particularly.

These debates, focused primarily on the psychopharmacology of cannabis and the personal and social costs of cannabis use and cannabis control policies, have rarely if ever included the voices of people recovering from cannabis dependence and/or other drug dependencies. 

Why would anyone want to consult recovering people? They’re not interested in using cannabis presumably. White directs us to the point with a question:

How will future changes in drug policy affect the availability of alcohol- and drug-free space in local communities and the health of people in recovery?

Safe spaces for recovery

Most people in the earlier part of recovery and often those much further on find it easier to avoid ‘people, places and things’ (PPT) that remind them of their alcohol and other drug use. There’s an old recovery saying: ‘if you sit in the barber’s chair long enough you’ll get a haircut.’ But pressure to promote drug products could compromise safe space for recovering people. Says White:

A problem with the legalization of any drug in a free-market economy is that those who profit from the growth, manufacture, sale, and use of the drug invest enormous resources in expanding the pool of people who use their product, expanding when and where the drug may be purchased and used, influencing norms on socially approved frequency and quantity of use, creating more biologically rewarding forms of the drug, and introducing novel and more efficient methods of drug administration.

And then a public health counterforce will react against this:

Similarly, effective public health strategies aimed at the containment of drug problems seek to affect these same dimensions in opposite directions, e.g., reducing global consumption, reducing drug access to vulnerable populations, limiting dose exposure per use event and cumulative lifetime exposure, limiting the public space where use can occur, and restraining promotional forces. 

“People places and things”

As he has argued so eloquently and clearly in his book Pathways from the Culture of Addiction to the Culture of Recovery: A Travel Guide for Addiction ProfessionalsBill White once more points out that maintaining recovery is ‘profoundly influenced’ by environmental factors. Recovering people need to avoid and negotiate people, places and things (PPT) to keep safe and while he is certainly not calling for prohibition, he is asking for consideration and balance:

…it is a call to examine the ratio within each community between drug-friendly space and recovery-friendly space.  People in recovery ought to be able to have space in their communities in which they can pursue family life, work, leisure, and worship without being constantly bombarded by sensory cues (PPTs) that can elicit drug craving and, at times of heightened vulnerability, trigger drug-seeking behavior.

So there is a need to involve recovering people (and others) in discussions about legalisation and its potential consequences.

Increased exposure of all citizens to public displays of drug use and intoxication, drug-impaired co-workers, drug-impaired drivers, and a social milieu filled with drug paraphernalia, drug advertising, and passive drug contact raises questions about the quality of community life and public safety, but for people in recovery and their families such exposure may have far more personal consequences.  Any policy discussions of marijuana legalization should include the voices of people in recovery and should include a serious discussion about recovery space.  Such space must be protected regardless of the future legal status of psychoactive drugs.

Read the whole blog here: it raises relevant points I had not previously considered and which are worthy of reflection.

    4 Responses to "Drug legalisation and recovery"
    1. Kevin Jaffray says:

      Have tagged this to read later, but just a glance….. Want aware there was a debate for legalisation. Was under the impression it was decriminalisation that was being pushed for. There is a HUG difference.

    2. Michaela says:

      What jumps out for me in this (I think because it is foremost in my mind at the moment, and after all its all about me!) is the pressing need for more drug and alcohol free spaces.

      While the whirlwind of pro-legalisation/pro-decriminalisation and the anti-both debates swirl around us (along with plenty of other old and probably never to resolved bug-bears) I can’t be alone in my longing for places of shelter from the storm. Places that I can just be.

      While I am perhaps less worried by the barber’s chair argument (although I am not denying the risks) I think that active promotion of alternative lifestyles has much to offer. Blimey – have I just written alternative lifestyles? It’s come to something when enjoying yourself sans substance is alternative – ’nuff said!

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