Manfred used to work for Stevens, the company where I am currently employed. He does not work there anymore. He is beloved by many of the employees, as they have worked together for many years. He can be a charming fellow. He is also an alcoholic and it has finally caught up with him. He has been in rehabilitation two or three times this year. The last time he stopped at the liquor store on his way home. He drinks until he is so sick that he cannot get any more alcohol, and then he calls 911. They come and take him to the hospital. The hospital keeps him a few days until he is back on his feet and then they let him go. Then he goes home and starts drinking again.
I have heard several tragic stories of alcoholics, and I have wondered what could be done about it. We could lock them in jail, except that our jails are already overflowing, so we are only keeping the most violent offenders locked up. Besides, he has not really done anything wrong, he has not robbed or attacked anyone. We cannot legally restrict his freedom unless he is convicted of breaking a law.
His future is not bright. His path of continued self destructive behavior will surely result in his early impoverishment and demise. Surely something could be done.
Perhaps it is time for our legal and social understanding of addiction to catch up to our scientific one. Whatever freewill Manfred has is an illusion. Manfred is not under his own control, he is under the influence of his addiction, and it is killing him.
Perhaps something like a prison farm might help. Inmates would be confined against their will, so to speak, but would have the opportunity to work and a certain amount of freedom within their restricted community. It should be possible to eliminate alcohol from a small community like this. They would be able to interact with the world at large through communication and commerce. Alcohol would be contraband.
The cost of operating such a community could be taken from taxes on alcoholic beverages. While this might effectively reduce the tax revenue currently produced by sales of alcoholic beverages, the other costs that alcoholics impose on society should be greatly reduced.
I read a story in a magazine recently about the million dollar drunk. Someone in emergency services noticed that they been picking up the same man repeatedly and checked their records to see how long this had been going on. It was something like ten years, and the unpaid bill for emergency services and hospitalization was over a million dollars. This one mans alcoholism had cost this community a million dollars.
There are also the costs due to damage caused by drunk drivers. Of course not all drunk drivers are alcoholics, so it would not go to zero.
More importantly though, there is the loss of the person.
The big problem here is the legal, and society's, concept of freedom and free will. On one hand we have a President who has effectively rescinded the right of Habeus Corpus, and on the other we have recently seen the repudiation of the President's agenda in the mid-term Congressional elections.
I like to think I am a friend of freedom. I think the government is overstepping their bounds in their attempt to pursue terrorists. Perhaps if the situation in the Middle East was not such a mess, I might think differently, but it is not and I do not.
I do not like the idea of locking up someone because they had too much to drink. But I do think we should try to help those who are clearly on a self destructive path, and if the only way to accomplish that is incarceration, then so be it.