Where the Alligators Roam

Where the Alligators Roam

Don Clausen: Addiction and the Selective Use of Moral Judgment

May 17, 2017

"Don Clausen and I have been friends for 40 years. We met at what was then USL at, appropriately enough, a protest over tuition hikes.

We fluctuated in and out of touch before reconnecting in the early years of this century here in Lafayette. By this time Don was well into his career as a social worker specializing in one form or another of addictive behaviors. Over the years we've had hundreds of conversations that have mixed social, cultural and political analysis with the insights he's gleaned through what are now the three decades of his work in the field.

He's been working on his Ph.D. in Social Work at Jackson State University in Mississippi. He's ABD — all but dissertation — at this point and the conversations have gotten richer as he's brought what he's learned from his research of the history of the field of addiction treatment to our ongoing conversations.

This is the third time Don's appeared on the podcast. This conversation covers some of the earliest days of the addiction as a disease model and, in it, Clausen discusses some of the moral and class biases that have shaped the field from its early days and which I would say distort it today.

Dr. Benjamin Rush shaped the field from its earliest days. He was the first to classify addiction as a disease. Later academicians and practitioners applied a moral judgment to the disease model and treatment programs based on that analysis have flourished for more than 150 years. What is clear is that the moral judgments were applied to the addictions (primarily alcohol) of the lower classes, while addictions of the upper classes (which included drugs) were written off as 'products of success.'

We talk about that where the moral judgments were and were not applied.

We also delve into the way society conditions us for addiction and abandons us by not providing us the tools to understand and address those itches we try to scratch or numb with substances of choice — some legal, some not.

The next time Don is on the show, he'll be a full Ph.D. and I'll have to defer to his knowledge. Until then, we'll rumble!"