01.09.2010 «The Challenge of Addiction»: a productive learning process
Forum François van der Linde. The task was an ambitious one: to draw up a policy framework that would include not only addictive substances but also potentially addictive forms of behaviour (gambling, for instance). The way it was addressed was also ambitious: the three federal commissions set up to address the area of addiction (alcohol, tobacco, drugs) were to take on the task together. Truly ambitious was then the notion of implementing the principles formulated at the end of the report. The first step has been taken: the report and the principles are now available.
The word «addiction» in the title could be misunderstood. But there is no better word for it. After all, our concern here is neither exclusively nor even primarily with addiction in the traditional sense of the word, but with individual and social problems that result from the consumption of psychoactive substances or from patterns of behaviour that have an addictive effect. Dependence may be involved, but does not have to be.
There are also areas of tension that have to be resolved:
– On the one hand, we have the individual’s freedom to consume what he wants and thus possibly engage in self-harm, but also the economic freedom to produce and distribute goods;
– On the other hand, we have the role of the state in taking regulatory action in the form of government orders to limit the adverse health-related, social and economic effects of such consumption.
In the course of our work, it became evident that there was a large measure of consensus on the basic issues among the experts of the three commissions. But at a more detailed level, opinions diverged rather widely on how the problems associated with addiction were to be addressed. Policies on alcohol, tobacco and drugs had previously been treated as three different sectors. The reciprocal learning processes that took place as the report was being drawn up proved to be extremely productive.
But the report alone will not change addiction policy. There now has to be a follow-up process, which the report describes under the headings of dissemination, consolidation and mainstreaming. We need first of all to promote an essential change of basic attitude that should be geared to the characteristics shared by all psychoactive substances or behaviours with an addictive effect. We have to stop thinking in terms of «good» and «bad» or «legal» and «illegal». Political decisions in future should first focus on common denominators and then, coordinated to the specific burden of problems, create a differentiated approach to regulating the individual forms of consumption that will ensure an appropriate balance between the freedom of the individual and the socio-economic burden of problems.
The report on «The Challenge of Addiction» provides the necessary foundations for this task.
François van der Linde,
Chairman of the Steering Group