Should we treat?

Is it always right to offer treatment to people with addictions?

Addiction, especially drug addiction, is usually defined as a problem. It may not always seem so to the addict. There is evidence that some heroin users, for example, if they have a safe and secure supply, lead very routine, well-regulated lives – their daily habits are organised around their drug habit. This can fit in with a nine-to-five existence for some people.

Other addictions may be seen as harmless only for views to change later on. Cigarette smoking is the clearest example. It does not disrupt everyday life, it is often seen as rather cool, and it used to be widely accepted socially. Nowadays we know it is medically very risky over the long term, so we try to persuade people to stop, ban it from public places and offer smokers treatment to help them to give it up. Since England introduced smoking bans in public places in 2007, there has reportedly been a 2.4 per cent drop in hospital admissions from heart attacks, and while this may not have influenced the number of people smoking, it has dramatically reduced harm from second-hand smoke.

The UK government is now pushing forward plans for standardised cigarette packaging, in the hope that this will reduce the number of smokers, especially younger ones. While it is unknown whether this will work, similar laws introduced in Australia have been credited for the country’s 12.8 per cent decline in tobacco sales in the two years following their introduction.


About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Addiction’ in June 2010 and reviewed and updated in September 2015.

Health, infection and disease
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development