Education and the empowerment it provides is the antidote to addiction

Joe Oakes

August 25, 2018

The new online multiplayer game “Fortnite” has not only recently taken over and dominated the gaming sphere but it has also come to monopolise many people’s weekly schedule. This may appear harmless at first, but in many cases it has a more sinister undertone. Since gaming addiction has only recently been recognized by the World Health Organization as a genuine disorder, serious questions have been raised about how we manage all types of addiction.

While many parents have campaigned for the banning of the game altogether, it would be counterproductive to simply take the addicts off the drip. The idea that these problems are the game’s fault have profound implications for managing this issue – it justifies further regulating the gaming industry and unconsciously absolves the victims of any responsibility. While we must acknowledge the need for some regulation, we mustn’t let a disorder that affects a small corner of a community to justify robbing everyone else of their liberty.

The problem of addiction is a complex one. Although most people accept its status as a disease or a disorder, there are those, including controversial Daily Mail columnist Peter Hitchens, who question the distinction between addiction and a sheer lack of willpower. However one chooses to recognise the problem, it is a problem nonetheless and it needs a solution.

Addiction spans far and wide and is an ever-changing matter of contention. The list of things to which you can be addicted seems to change every year. This has gradually become inclusive of alcohol, nicotine, gambling, solvents, the internet, work and caffeine.

Drug addiction is the most destructive and quantifiable form of them all. Different methods of attempting to manage the issue have garnered different levels of success. The first real signs of regulation came in 1912 with the introduction of the International Opium Convention. Yet opium, the drug which Britain had fought wars to freely trade, began to see some restrictions even before that. Since then, regulation has been controversial but relatively successful in reducing drug use where it has been applied.

But what about the current situation? What are the costs of addiction?

A report by the Centre for Policy Studies showed that the percentage of addicts in the UK is the same as it was in 2004/05 as a proportion of the population. The same report found that the state spends about £730 million a year prescribing methadone to recovering heroin addicts, but only 4 per cent of addicts come out of that treatment free of dependency.

While much of this spending is necessary, we must seek to lessen the burden on the NHS, whose foundations are already cracking. This does not mean neglecting the victims of addiction. In many cases, addiction is the result of socioeconomic circumstances and, as some psychological determinists argue, is an unavoidable outcome for many addicts. Regardless, we must empower these individuals and not shun them.

We need only to look across Europe to Portugal to see what libertarian policies can do. Despite what some might anticipate the effect to be, granting people the liberty to make decisions for themselves has brought about reductions in drug abuse.

Indeed, when Portugal decriminalised drugs, their problem was much more severe – it is, therefore, hard to say whether such a radical policy might do so well in the UK. But with our overdose deaths increasing and Portugal’s going down, we must accept Portugal as a flagship nation for the successes of such an approach.

Worried parents are often guided by their anxieties and believe that the best way to protect their children from addictions is to mollycoddle them away from the dangers of the world – the belief that we must blind our children in order to give them the best life. This notion is one I find deeply worrying. One of the main causes of the Portuguese addiction problem was ignorance, which logically cannot be solved by blindness. Empowerment is the key to cutting out these problems from their roots, and knowledge is power.

I spoke with Fiona Spargo-Mabbs, founder of the Daniel Spargo-Mabbs Foundation, which is a charity making huge strides at a grassroots level in educating the young on the harmful impacts of drugs.

Fiona identified the significance of tackling the innocent bewilderment and apathy of young people and their knowledge of drugs:

“Education is absolutely essential whatever happens in terms of drug policy reform, or any other legislative controls and constraints. It doesn’t matter what people’s backgrounds are. People from all walks of life are susceptible to coming across drug usage… Regulation and banning of these drugs are not directly related to this usage decreasing. If people want drugs, they will get them – very often it can be easier for under 18s to get hold of unregulated substances like cannabis than something regulated and controlled by the law like cigarettes, but it’s much riskier and potentially harmful to take something that isn’t regulated.”

For this reason, it is essential that people know what they are getting into. First and foremost, young people must be made aware of the biological impact of drug usage to themselves: psychosis, depression and anxiety to name a few. The wider impact of drugs on society must also be taught alongside this.

The Government’s UK guidance for Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE), though not yet statutory, includes drug education as well as various other social skills, and suggests that schools must be able to tailor their own curriculums on the matter.

But while PSHE must be protected and progressed, there are some things that curriculums cannot teach. Charities like Fiona’s and institutions in communities, such as churches and youth clubs, are paramount in many cases. Beyond drugs, it is essential that every individual knows what their own relationship with each vice is. While I can happily throw down £10 on an England World Cup win and it not be a problem, the same can’t be said for everyone.

“If you’re consuming anything, you’re basically testing them on yourself without knowing their contents. I’m a huge fan of Loop’s drug testing and harm reduction services, which offers information about what’s in drugs and a short counselling session – often the first honest, informed conversation people have about drugs. Everyone must be aware of the contents of what they’re consuming and how they respond to it individually.”

For Fiona, it is, therefore, not only a question of education but also of nurture. Wielding knowledge and understanding, young people can battle off bad habits if they need to – without the nanny state.

Drug addiction is a battle we have experience in fighting, but the gaming industry is increasing exponentially by the day, most of us are addicted to our smartphones and wherever I go everyone seems to be addicted to coffee. Some of these are clearly more harmful than others, so we must hand children the tools to approach their journey in a way that benefits them most as our world evolves. The glorious nature of education is its empowerment and the ability of the individual to take risks, live life and be free.


Written by Joe Oakes

Joe Oakes is Communications Officer at 1828.


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