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Friday, November 21, 2008

Reason brings National Addictions Awareness Week to a close

The Western Standard marked the start of National Addictions Awareness Week on Monday with a comment from mental health and addiction expert Dr. Thomas Szasz. Dr. Szasz called the addiction treatment industry a “government sponsored racket” and took apart the notion that addiction is a disease.

In bringing National Addictions Awareness Week to a close, the Western Standard sought the help of Jacob Sullum, senior editor of Reason Magazine and the author of Saying Yes:

“When people focus of the problems associated with addiction, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that there's a difference between use and abuse. The vast majority of people who use psychoactive substances, whether legal or illegal, do not develop self-destructive or antisocial habits. They either use the drug a few times and then stop or continue to use it in a way that does not interfere with their lives. In fact, this sort of drug use, like moderate drinking, enhances people's lives, providing pleasure that outweighs any costs involved. It's important to remember, even as we note the hazards of heavy, uncontrolled drug use, that it is not the typical pattern,” said Sullum.

According to Szasz and Sullum respectively, addiction isn’t a disease and it’s not even a normal consequence of drug experimentation. That’s something you likely didn’t hear this week from Canada’s so-called addiction experts.

On a related matter, Reason Magazine is currently celebrating 40 years of publishing. I know I speak for the management and editorial team at the Western Standard in congratulating and wishing them many more years of publishing success as the world’s preeminent libertarian magazine.

Posted by Matthew Johnston

Posted by westernstandard on November 21, 2008 in Current Affairs | Permalink


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What happens when you put Jacob Sullum and Thomas Szasz together in the same room? A fascinating discussion from the July 2000 edition of reason, that's what:

Sullum: Alan Leshner, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, says "Drug addiction is a brain disease." Is there any scientific basis for that claim?

Szasz: As far as I know, there is not one iota of evidence for this. When people take drugs and get "hooked," this is simply another way of saying it becomes a habit, which makes the drug more difficult to abandon than if you haven't got the habit. But it's no different from speaking English or Hungarian. Any habit is difficult to change. And of course you can also become chemically habituated to drugs, so that you have withdrawal symptoms when you stop. Of course, taking a drug can make you sick, but a therapeutic drug can also make you sick. It's a question of dosage, what you take, and why you take it.


Sullum: In the 1960s people like R.D. Laing and Michel Foucault agreed with you that psychiatry was a form of social control, a way of stigmatizing and punishing unwanted behavior in the guise of therapy. Both of them identified themselves as men of the left, whereas you allied yourself with classical liberalism. What would you say are the basic differences between their views on psychiatry and yours, and how are those related to political ideology?

Szasz: Although we agreed on the criticism of traditional psychiatry, they somehow never made it clear that bodily diseases--pneumonia, cancer, and so on--are real, but mental diseases are metaphoric diseases, in the sense of a "sick" joke. They are problems, but they are not medical problems in that they do not involve somatic, organic etiologies and are not amenable to a somatic, organic resolution. They are essentially conflicts within oneself and conflicts between oneself and other people...


When Szasz says that addiction is not a disease, this is what he means. There is no physiological diagnosis for addiction, and no basis for calling a disease rather than a pattern of behaviour.

Posted by: Kalim Kassam | 2008-11-21 2:16:46 PM

Szasz is an incredibly important and undervalued libertarian intellectual. Anyone interested in freedom must read at least a couple of his books, including "Insanity" and "Our Right to Drugs." A lot of Szasz material is found at szasz.com.

As for libertarian magazines, my own favorite is The Freeman, under the sterling editorship of Sheldon Richman. Szasz has a regular column in that publication.

Posted by: Nicolas Martin | 2008-11-21 2:35:01 PM


"Szasz is an incredibly important and undervalued libertarian intellectual."

Agreed, He stands above most libertarians in his radicalism and his use of language, but most importantly in his amazing moral clarity on issues of coercion and consent. He has dedicated his life and his work to battling the two institutions in modern Western society most similar to chattel slavery, namely psychiatry and the mass imprisonment of so-called drug offenders.

"As for libertarian magazines, my own favorite is The Freeman, under the sterling editorship of Sheldon Richman. Szasz has a regular column in that publication."

Agreed again, Reason.com is great because they cover and interpret the news as it happens, and the magazine is fantastic because it gets read by mainstream opinion leaders and in the halls of power. I enjoy both, but, if you like your libertarianism straight-up and you're interested in the advancement of ideas and the pursuit of truth The Freeman is the place to go. I really appreciate Richman's inclusion of left-libertarian ideas and thinkers like Charles Johnson and Kevin Carson in recent years, it certainly adds to the richness of the magazine of the libertarian Old Right.

Posted by: Kalim Kassam | 2008-11-21 2:49:14 PM

I just wish more people understood the broad range of Libertarian thinking instead of becoming entirely hung up on single issues. Usually the issues for them are personal and close to home and they like that government makes laws or regulations in that regard. But do they see that when government does this in regard to "everyone's" single issue...we lose all freedoms. Sad.
And its why I feel we need to assert and defend our rights to "choose".

Posted by: JC | 2008-11-22 7:42:21 AM

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