The real cost of substance misuse

A society that measures the cost of substance misuse with money has already lost its ability to help efficiently substance addicts. In fact, it is that type of society that produces substance misuse. Behind addiction one may find people seeking for an alternative reality or even -naive but true- a better world. A civilisation constantly focused on the materialistic aspects of life cannot provide with fulfillment and this is necessary and sufficient to maintain a phenomenon such as substance misuse.


Train tunnel near Thermopyles / Pavlos Kapralos

Besides, a government’s or an institution’s intervention which aims to treat substance misuse arguing for that necessity based on financial evidence, will probably achieve nothing more than financial outcomes. Of course, this will definitely have an impact on the numbers of substance misusers, but it is doubtful whether it will have achieve to erase the causes of the problem.  It is more likely that will have treated only the symptoms. Why is that a problem?

The problem comes from the fact that all areas of social psychopathology are interconnected. Dealing only with the symptoms of what comes to our vision as substance misuse – rather than coming up against the causes  leaves the problem literally unsolved; it masks the social and psychological reality of the problem and eventually treats us with surprise when dissatisfaction finds more impulsive and sudden ways of expression. For instance, the figures regarding substance misuse have been falling for the last years in the UK, however, last August riots showed that the feeling that we are moving towards a healthier society was only an illusion.

Money, of course is not to be demonised; however, a one-dimensional approach can make someone (including social workers, service providers and governments) miss the big picture and that can be catastrophic in the long term. For instance governments around the world are spending money in order to make people more independent, abstinent and self-controlled, while they are directly supporting the increase of production, demand and consumption and also indirectly supporting or allowing consumerism, companies’ (aggressive sometimes) marketing and the creation of artificial needs and desires.

However, within intervention teams and people working with substance addicts, one can find professionals that work with people rather than numbers and with love rather than approaches and best practices. “Love” -weird word but indispensable; the element of human “taste” in any kind of intervention at any level of it -from its design to its finance- is the one that makes the difference.

To speak more concretely, soft skills and non-measurable elements of an intervention such as love, real concern and affection create long-term effects and multiplier effects. While most agents measure the cost of substance misuse as the sum of the intervention expenses, the government’s benefits and the loss of working hours of someone out of work, the real cost consists on the top of the above of: the loss of some great minds, the loss of innovation, the learned helplessness and lack of motivation diffused in society, the loss of coherence, bonds and stability within communities and finally the isolation and alienation which all in all is the death of  human energy and creativity.

We cannot measure the long-term impact of these but we know it is significant. We cannot either measure the multiplier effect of spreading the motivation and the joy to create but we know it is there. Luckily, during last years, soft skills have been gaining considerable attention among the scientific community. Isn’t it weird that something so obvious for an ordinary person had been underestimated by the scientists for so many years?

Recently, in a meeting of Camden’s Complex Family programme, I was very happy to hear speakers talking about the impact of “smile”, “hug”, “eye contact” and “love”. I think the true work and outcomes rely on those workers. This post is dedicated to them and everyone who approaches the substance misuse problem with a free of money attitude.

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