I have already written a little about addiction and how prevalent it is in Norway. The drug(s) of choice are predominantly heroin and alcohol, both very harmful and both quite scary when used carelessly, but more on that later.
When I walk about Oslo, I hear people talk (I swear I’m not trying to listen in on private conversations – it just kinda happens). While (totally unintentionally) listening in on others conversations, I have overheard variations of one particular theme several times. The topic is how addicts spend their money and how they should spend their money. Here are a couple of pretty common statements:
“I don’t give cause they’ll just spend it on drugs”. Or, in the case of more generous passers-by’s, “I hope you spend this on food, not drugs”. I understand both sentiments; the first one pertains to not wanting to feed an individual’s addiction. Addiction is a horrible disease, and most do not want to contribute to another person’s downfall. The second one is reasonable as well, cause after all, all creatures need some sort of nourishment to survive (Why hello there Captain Obvious!). There’s a problem with both statements though, namely that when a body is thoroughly addicted to a drug, your body/brain makes the drug its first priority.
Let’s look at alcohol. Alcohol is an evil drug. It is one of the few drugs that can make you really ill, but that you’ll still return to. Now, there’s something called “the Garcia-Effect”. Dr. John Garcia was a psychologist working in a U.S defense lab. He was a prolific researcher, and he studied the effects of pairing a food/drink item with horrible nausea (among many other things). It turns out that if we put something in our mouth, then get nauseous, we develop a taste-aversion. That is, we’re unlikely to eat or drink that same thing again; we might even get nauseous at the very smell of the food/drink that made us ill (I know the Garcia-effect well. I still cannot eat Christmas-type glazed ham after getting very very ill from eating it while living in a boarding school in Kolding, Denmark. 19 years have passed and the smell still makes me unwell. Dear Lord did I ever get sick). Alcohol, despite being “something you put in your mouth/swallow” is not subject to the Garcia-effect; It may be in the short term, but most forget about the horrible hangovers and the puking fairly quickly. We may be evolutionarily prepared to avoid food/drinks that may harm or even kill us, but alcohol seems to be an exception.
Anyway, alcohol-withdrawal can (and frequently does) kill people. The symptoms are horrible. The milder symptoms include nausea/vomiting, headaches, dizziness, shakiness and anxiety. What follows is worse. There’s hallucinations, both visual (that is, the individual sees things that aren’t really there); tactile (the individual feels something that’s not real, for instance a touch or likewise) and auditory (this is when we hear sounds, voices or likewise that aren’t real). People who go through alcohol withdrawal may as such turn psychotic. Then there’s delirium tremens. Delirium tremens symptoms include severe anxiety, visual hallucinations (that cannot be distinguished from reality. Imagine seeing the Grim Reaper coming for you and believing it is true…), racing heartbeat, high blood pressure and finally, seizures and heart-failure. All this may happen within hours, but if the individual drinks a little alcohol, the symptoms recede. Comparatively, if we don’t eat for a few hours, we (may) get grumpy, maybe a bit dizzy and if we go without food for a longer time, we may faint. It takes a looooong time for us to die from lack of food. Food should naturally be a priority, but in this case, it should not be the first priority (in my opinion anyways). If given the choice between alleviating hunger and alleviating symptoms of delirium tremens, I’d go with the latter every single time.
My friend/former classmate/collaborator on a major paper in a counselling psychology class, Nickey Christine, made a few excellent points when I posted this on facebook. The following is one of them (in her own words). “Where I live at least, I don’t know about Norway, food on the otherhand is something ppl can access thru food banks, community meals, religious centers, etc. So in a strange and twisted way, not having money does not nec mean not having food. But it can mean resorting to more destructive means to feed their addiction… So not giving bc of a fear of feeding an addiction can mean the opposite of risk reduction… Mind blown lol”. We have the exact same situation here; there are several places where those who struggle can secure a free meal, so food is easily obtained; money though? Not so much.. I’ll include links to the various organizations/institutions on the bottom of this post, in case anyone might know of someone who is in need of a little extra help.
As previously mentioned, I do understand the unwillingness to contribute to others worsening disease, but not giving does nothing to help the individual. The addicts need proper treatment by professionals, and until they get that, I think it is all about keeping the person (somewhat) well and at least alive. Helping them secure their drug of choice is an act of kindness. Cause not giving does nothing to cure the disease.
Also, if we give something away, we no longer own it. Stipulations on gifts are obnoxious in a “I know what’s right for you” kinda way. Or so I think.
(Btw. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy the occasional (ehrm..) glass of wine.)