This peer-reviewed paper is several years old, but I thought it was very interesting and brought up some important points about how we in society tend to deal with those who wish to give up a particular “vice.”
It’s a study related to those who quit smoking tobacco, but the relevance goes far beyond that. Here’s the basic point…
As with problem drinking, gambling, and narcotics use, population studies show consistently that a large majority of smokers who permanently stop smoking do so without any form of assistance. In 2003, some 20 years after the introduction of cessation pharmacotherapies, smokers trying to stop unaided in the past year were twice as numerous as those using pharmacotherapies and only 8.8% of US quit attempters used a behavioural treatment. Moreover, despite the pharmaceutical industry’s efforts to promote pharmacologically mediated cessation and numerous clinical trials demonstrating the efficacy of pharmacotherapy, the most common method used by most people who have successfully stopped smoking remains unassisted cessation (cold turkey or reducing before quitting. In 1986, the American Cancer Society reported that: “Over 90% of the estimated 37 million people who have stopped smoking in this country since the Surgeon General’s first report linking smoking to cancer have done so unaided.” Today, unassisted cessation continues to lead the next most successful method (nicotine replacement therapy [NRT]) by a wide margin.
Yet, paradoxically, the tobacco control community treats this information as if it was somehow irresponsible or subversive and ignores the potential policy implications of studying self-quitters.
There is a ton of financial incentive in convincing people that they need help in quitting whatever they wish to quit, including self-interest from the treatment industry and the pharmacological industry. (One of the most bizarre things in my mind to happen in recent years has been the development of drugs to help people quit cannabis.)
Particularly irresponsible in this area has been the incessant emphasis on treatment by the U.S. government and the irresponsible “third-way-ers,” who have practically come out in favor of forced treatment for all illicit drug users. Of course, the truth is that most drug users do so non-problematically and don’t need help. And of those who have a problem with their use and wish to reduce or quit, a very large number could do so on their own.
This is not to say that treatment procedures and medications are without value. For some problem users, they can be life-saving.
But we’re essentially telling people that they can’t quit unless they get treatment. And that’s not only wrong, it’s potentially damaging as it may actually convince people that they are unable to quit.