Is addiction a fantasy?


Is substance addiction a fantasy? Is it really just a lack of willpower to stop drinking alcohol or taking drugs? That's what author and columnist Peter Hitchens asserted Monday on BBC's Newsnight.

Addressing co-panelist Matthew Perry, an American actor and recovering alcohol and pain-killer addict, Hitchens said: "You have a choice over whether you drink or not. You have a choice over whether you take drugs."

Hitchens, Perry and Baroness Meacher, of the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform, were on the show to discuss the creation of special drug courts outside the standard criminal justice system in order to treat, rather than punish, addicts.

Drug courts work, said Perry, best known for portraying Chandler Bing on the US sitcom Friends. "People who go through drug court have a 55 percent less chance of seeing handcuffs ever again."

Start Quote

I didn't come here to listen to ludicrous things like that”

End Quote Matthew Perry Actor

Hitchens would have none of that.

He said that drug courts are making the criminal justice system "feeble" and the best way to keep people from becoming addicted is to make the penalties for drug use so prohibitively high that no-one would risk starting.

"The whole point of the criminal justices system, and we forget this all the time, is to deter people from committing crimes," he said.

And that's when it got really good. As an incredulous Perry looked on, Hitchens decried the American Medical Association and the "fantasy of addiction".

"I didn't come here to listen to ludicrous things like that," Perry responded.

"The medical evidence shows that addiction is in part a genetic problem and in part an environmental one," Baroness Meacher said.

"Countries that have addressed this and dealt with it as a health problem are doing a lot better than we are."

Hitchens, brother of the late author and polemicist Christopher Hitchens, is making quite a habit of confronting celebrity drug users on Newsnight.

In August 2012, he took a turn against comedian Russell Brand, with similar results.

"If you can find in yourself to look at human beings with compassion and love rather than with aggression," Brand told Hitchens, "you will find there's more opportunity for progress."

"I don't wish to be lectured about aggression by you," Hitchens replied.

And off they went…



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  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Arguments about choice and personal responsibility only go so far and are too often used by indifferent and self regarding people, usually comfortable and well to do, to overlook the fact that environment and other factors beyond the persons willpower have a influence on their behavior. What is worse is when the addict or ex-con seeks help to get better their positive choice is scorned of ignored.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I am truly sorry at the process of rational thinking, that WE have allowed the younger people in this world to miss out on. For these people to firmly believe that nothing is ones own fault, and the government needs to make it all better and pay everyone's way is very unfortunate. Personal responsibility.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I apologize about Mr. Hitchens. When we de-iced that caveman in the frozen Alps all those years ago, we never thought teaching it how to speak would result in people actually listening to its views.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    7 Minutes ago

    I sharply disagree with all of them. No government should be in the business of telling responsible, informed adults what chemicals they may or may not ingest into their own bodies.


    They should when those drugs and their procurement and sale have a detrimental effect on the society which elects governments first and foremost to protect it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I sharply disagree with all of them. No government should be in the business of telling responsible, informed adults what chemicals they may or may not ingest into their own bodies. The war on drugs remains an ongoing, unbelievably expensive catastrophe that causes infinitely more harm to people and society than any drugs possibly could.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    The fact is if I pumped enough opium into Peter Hitchens for long enough he would become addicted will it or not. The body would become dependent on it of its own without the requirement of volition. Case in point infants who are born with the symptoms of addiction. They cannot choose one way or the other and yet exhibit the same dependency as adults. Sense if not reason as always eludes Peter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I was always a fan of Christopher Hitchens. A man with a sharp mind and a great curiosity His brother however seems about as worldly as Sarah Palin

    "Heroin is not addictive, it's all in the mind"
    So is Reality Peter, you might wish pull your head out of you asshat and check in before talking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Hmm sounds like Mr Hitchens is addicted to the sound of his own voice, doesn't like listening to other peoples opinions, and stirring up trouble. Now if he just exerted a little will power :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    If and it is a very big if the God Peter Hitchens so devoutly believes in is really moving behind the scenes, then I would suggest it was cruel of him to have taken Christopher and not rid us of Peter. The latter is a cruel parody of his brilliant brother and nothing more. I think he is deeply bitter at his brother's success and now resides in the midden of his own jealousy. Wrong again Pete.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    What's so necessary about having pedants on public positions these days? Peter seems to be as much one as Christopher was. But Christopher at least worked as an erudite. But, on Peter, if someone's so perfect, why don't you put him on a pedestal and film him instead of making him a show host?

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    I am not an addict, but I do believe that simple willpower cannot cure substance abuse.. If you are an addict, you need help and special drug courts would be appropriate. If simply telling/scaring people not to do something worked, adam and eve wouldn't have eaten the apple.. we all know how that panned out :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Mr Hitchens is absolutely right about most of the things we call addiction these days. While one can develop physical dependency on some substances, mostly we just use the term to avoid recognizing weakness of will.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Let me know when Hitchens interviews Charlie Sheen, that should be a real hoot!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    BBC Matthew Perry is Canadian


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