Social problems plaguing the poor are largely ignored as intractable, a given of the invisible “underclass.” But as more and more Americans in the middle class become poorer, if not impoverished, by our ongoing economic crises—the implosion of the financial industry (goodbye IRAs and retirement funds), the raft of foreclosures and 10% unemployment (farewell to the bedrock American belief in a house and a job)—denying the link between income and addiction keeps us from finding workable solutions for the explosion in addictive behavior all around us. The most potent anti-craving medications in the world won’t prevent relapse among people who lack skills, job opportunities and hope.
It’s important to emphasize that drawing attention to the increased vulnerability to addiction that poverty poses is in no way meant to pit addict against addict or to sew discord. There are all too many middle-class and rich people in this country battling various addictions. But if we continue to ignore the special role that the lack of education and employment play in fermenting the growing drug problem, we are likely to leave them out of the solution when it comes to crafting treatment and prevention.
Instead, we need to address the specific social and economic problems that have made the US one of the most drugged-out countries in the world. The magic-wand policy answer would be, of course, to cut economic inequality. Almost without exception, nations, and even US states, where the concentration of wealth is greatest have not only more addictions but also more obesity, heart disease, stroke, mental illness and other major health problems than those with less inequality. The greater the inequality, the higher the murder rate, too.