Substance Abuse: A Complex Topic in Many Ways

Drugs and alcohol are complicated substances. How we think about them is also complicated. How complicated? Many of us have different, seemingly contradictory opinions about drugs and alcohol or opinions that change over time.

Prominent people often hold these contradictory views. Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, is affiliated with Advocates for Opioid Recovery (AOR), a nonprofit organization urging new treatments for opioid abuse.

During the launch of this organization in 2016, Gingrich said that he believed that addiction was a “chronic brain disease,” words that echo U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy. Also in 2016, Dr. Murthy called substance abuse a “chronic illness that we must approach with the same skill and compassion with which we approach heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.”

Interestingly, a few years before that, in 2011, Gingrich spoke out against the legalization of marijuana, since he said that it could lead to the legalization of other drugs. While there is considerable difference between an opioid (also known as an opiate) and marijuana, Gingrich’s statements illustrate how people hold complex views of drugs, their legality, and their treatment.

We see this complexity in U.S. drug laws. According to U.S. federal laws, it’s illegal to use or sell marijuana. But many states have made medicinal marijuana legal and a few states even allow their adult residents to grow and use marijuana for recreational purposes, albeit in a controlled manner.

Other countries hold different views from the United States when it comes to drugs and alcohol. The legal age to purchase and consume alcohol is lower in some countries than it is in the United States. There are also places around the world that many people believe are more lenient about drugs. The Netherlands, for example, has a reputation for being pro-drugs, especially pro-marijuana, but marijuana has been illegal, it’s just that authorities haven’t prosecuted people for having small amounts of the drug. This policy looks as if it might change, however, as antidrug politicians are becoming more prominent in the country.

Policies and opinions about drugs, substance abuse, and drug treatment are as complex as the drugs themselves.