The naive assumption that controlled substances such as heroin, crack or meth are more difficult to put down is false. Legal substances are by far the more difficult to kick.
Years of service as an addiction specialist have allowed me to come into contact with many who being drug free for years, at least from street or prescription drugs, continue to smoke cigarettes, or drink excessive amounts of coffee or diet soda. In fact, as one who recently decided to cease using artificial sweeteners for health reasons, I have found my habit of drinking diet cola throughout the day, very difficult to break.
Alcohol, nicotine and caffeine are legal drugs. While alcohol only becomes a legal issue when consumed in combination with operating heavy equipment such as an automobile, airplane or forklift, nicotine is only discouraged legally when other people are forced to inhale secondhand smoke, and no sanctions exist today for the use of caffeine.
Legal issues or stigma alone are often instrumental in bringing the heroin or crack user into the treatment process where residential treatment is available for sometimes months at a time. Recovery time is measured, days, weeks, months and years counted, and tangible rewards provided for those who maintain sobriety for specific lengths of time. Not so for those attempting to quit using legal drugs.
There are no 90 meetings in 90 days suggestions for nicotine smokers or caffeine drinkers, even though the long term effects of these drugs are often lethal. While some amount of stigma has recently descended on smokers, little or none applies to those of us who suffer from physical consequences of caffeine stimulant use. While I do not advocate stigmatizing cigarette smokers further, or caffeine users in the future, we do need to offer these groups more motivation to overcome their addictions than simply treating them as a joke, or leaving them on their own with little support.
Many who relapse into controlled substance use first use alcohol which is less stigmatized due to its legal status, and cigarette and caffeine use often substitute for another drug of choice becoming a process addiction. While I certainly am not advocating stricter legal penalties for these substances, I am suggesting more focus on them in addiction education groups.
Perhaps if the possible side effects of process addictions are somewhere in our consciousness, we will begin the process of eliminating or restricting them from our lives somewhat sooner. After many years drug free, I am currently just beginning to eliminate artificial sweeteners and diet cola from my life, calling for new exercise and diet habits in order to sustain this abstinence. Support in this area would be beneficial and much appreciated.