To Legalize or Not Legalize: That Is Not the Only Question
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To Legalize or Not Legalize: That Is Not the Only Question


The pros and cons of legalizing drugs remains a hot topic for those of us in the recovery world so I took note this week when the London Evening Standard reported on an interview British actor, comedian and recovering drug addict Russell Brand gave to the BBC’s Question Time in which he said that he doesn’t think that drug laws work. “People take drugs all the time,” he explained. “People will take drugs because of social, psychological and emotional reasons.” As an addict who couldn’t have cared less that drugs were illegal when I did them, I agree with him wholeheartedly.

Brand, having had the experience of full blown addiction, knows exactly why addicts use. “If I need drugs because I’m in pain inside, I’m taking drugs,” he said. He further stated that addicts do not need to be criminalized or marginalized but instead need to be treated with compassion if we are to have a chance of finding a solution.

Not Everyone Agrees

Not everyone from the recovery world agrees with this, of coruse. Billy Jones, the director of The Lighthouse men’s sober living facility in Indiana, says, “Decriminalizing drugs will eventually make it more acceptable in society. There will be less negative consequences to being an addict. Making it legal and more easily available will normalize a devastating and lethal practice.” Jones points out that, legal or not, there will always be people who will work outside the boundaries of the law. “Alcohol is a widely used and abused drug which can be bought legally in most every bar and supermarket in America,” he says, “but people are still partaking in the illegal production of moonshine.”

And yet, to me, it seems like the problem is less about the war on drugs and more about how much the treatment of addicts needs to be revolutionized in the medical world. The number of addicts that enter recovery facilities on prescribed narcotic psychiatric drugs, with their general practitioners fully aware of their addiction history, is mind boggling. I think this kind of irresponsible administering of legal drugs is just as big a problem as street drugs.

I know that I was prescribed Xanax about a year into my recovery for anxiety by a doctor who was fully aware of my history with addiction. Luckily, I was paranoid about developing a habit so I took less than I was prescribed. My fear and mental obsession with these pills was so massive, in fact, that I eventually just got rid of them because I knew that that the chances of me becoming addicted was very high. Not everyone who’s prescribed medications that their doctors consider safe—medications which would be safe in the hands of non-addicts—is so lucky.

Shifting the Budget Toward Treatment

Brand is right when he stresses that compassion and understanding is of the utmost importance when dealing with recovering addicts. Spending precious resources on incarceration and endless court appearances for “criminal” behavior due to addiction would be so much better spent on making detox beds and rehab places more accessible across the world.

But, of course, it also comes down to willingness. For an addict to get clean and sober, an addict has to want to get clean and sober. Many are court-ordered to 12-step programs and rehabs and while forced attendance works for some, for many others it does not. I know that someone telling me—or, even worse, forcing me—to quit my drug of choice back in the day would have only enraged me and made me want to use all the more. Legality would have had nothing to do with that; it wasn’t even something I considered. While I miraculously managed to never get arrested, I did certainly take part in my fair share of illegal activities along with the rest of my peers and whatever repurcussions were going to come to me or anyone else wasn’t a priority as long as I was getting loaded.

Medical professionals and law enforcement officials rarely understand that simply taking away the symptom of a much deeper and misunderstood problem and I understand that getting those who don’t suffer to understand that addiction is a physical, mental and spiritual disease may not be possible. But at least with people like Brand openly and honestly talking about addiction, the stigma and secrecy surrounding addiction have a chance of being squashed.

Photo courtesy of Brian Solis – – (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons (resized and cropped)

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About Author

Nicola O’Hanlon is part of the blogging community for the recovery website You can see her blogs on She was born and still lives in Wexford, Ireland.