Beating Out Addiction

In western medical circles it’s become standard practice to approach addictive behavior with empathy. A behavior once thought of as a moral shortcoming is now understood to be the result of complex genetic and socio-economic causes that are only partly controlled by the individual. 

This section of a paper in The Lancelet sums up the attitude fairly well:

A multifaceted approach to treatment is needed that could involve not only pharmacological treatment, but also psychosocial approaches and social support to minimise risk, and motivate addicted individuals to make healthy lifestylechanges. Doctors should treat addiction as a complex disorder, and with the compassion that has been lacking in the past.

It turns out this gentle attitude towards addicts is not universal.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Russian approach to addiction treatment is more abrasive. By just a smidge.

Here’s an article recently written in the NY Times about Russian treatment clinics:

 The treatment center does not handcuff addicts to their beds anymore. But caged together on double-decker bunks with no way out, they have no choice but to endure the agonies of withdrawal, the first step in a harsh, coercive approach to drug treatment that has gained wide support in Russia.

“To put someone in handcuffs, it calms them psychologically,” Mr. Shipachev said as he paged through photographs of men shackled to their beds or to each other. “Now, it’s the old-timers who calm the new ones. A guy shouts, ‘I’m going to die now!’ and everyone just laughs at him, because they’ve been there themselves. It would be much worse for him if he was alone. The best thing is to just go to sleep.”

The full article is here.

Your first instinct might be disgust or disbelief, but it turns out Russian society is pretty accepting of the practice. 

Human rights activists and western medical institutions have thrown their arms in the air about the brutality and ineffectiveness of the treatment centers, but Russians are quick to defend their right to torture one another:

Support for Mr. Bychkov came from the Russian Orthodox Church, from celebrities and even from some human rights advocates who said his heart was in the right place. In October, 500 people rallied in his defense here, including representatives of city and regional government offices and of the public organization Mothers Against Drugs, according to the Interfax news agency.

“Is it wrong to rescue a drowning person by pulling their hair?” asked Yevgeny Malenkin, a founder of City Without Drugs, summing up the public view. “If people say it is cruel and inhumane, let them teach us how to do it otherwise.”

So, the million dollar question is……does that stuff really work? 

To be honest, I have no idea. But it’s an interesting question. Consider this fodder for a future blog post.

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