A Case for Education—Not Prohibition—In Addressing Addiction

by Mar 1, 2019Opinion Pieces

“Throw it all out!”

That’s often the rallying cry of advocates whether they are fighting against gambling, alcohol, drugs, porn, or even high fructose corn syrup.

To these folks, the answer to protecting people from running into problems—often that they have experienced personally—is to eliminate the product from being offered.

Having once been an addict as well, I can understand where they are coming from. Addiction is a bastard I don’t wish on anyone and if simply eliminating the product could help others to avoid my decades of hell, then it seems like a good idea.

But it’s not.

Prohibition Doesn’t Work

That’s because prohibition doesn’t work. It’s a great theory, but it doesn’t carry over into real life.

In fact, there are many cases to be made that prohibition actually makes things worse as it shoves the activity into the black market where it becomes even more dangerous.

Having tried prohibition so many times, you’d think we would accept this by now. You’d think that we might realize that the more you tell humans they can’t do something, the more they want to do it and end up finding a way.

But, maybe we need something else.

The Answer Is Education

We need education not only to brush up on our understanding of the history of prohibition, but also as a solution to our seemingly endless growth of addiction.

Product Design

Before we talk about how to use education to combat addiction, let’s first look at how products are designed.

There are countless books written on how to make products that people love, can’t put down and come back to over and over again. There is a science to making not only videos, but also products that go viral. It works in nearly every aspect of our lives.

Essentially, product design is centered on our emotions.

The process starts by identifying the emotional shortcomings an individual is feeling as well as the desired endpoint they wish to reach. Use this knowledge to build a product that the consumer believes will help them get there—add in a few dopamine hits to the brain to confirm the progress along the way—and you have a hit.

Whether you are trying to get someone to play roulette, buy a car, attend church, eat your food, lose weight, buy new clothes, pick your university, use your app, or any other of the millions of things we do in our lifetime, the process works in the same way.

In summary, products are designed to be addictive. That’s the path towards selling more and making more money. It’s Business 101.

Removing the Illusion

As powerful as it is to design products that capitalize on human emotions. There is one glaring weakness.


It’s much like a magicians illusion or trick. It fascinates us and we are mesmerized by it when the act is performed for the first time. In fact, we continue to be mesmerized by it again and again right up until we peek behind the curtain.

Then it’s over.

The moment we learn how the trick is performed it loses its luster. We can no longer be duped by the performer and while he performs the same act, it’s just not as exciting or interesting to us.

And this is exactly what education can do for us in our fight against addiction.

Doing a deep dive to understand our own personal emotions gives us an understanding of what “tricks” or “illusions” we might be vulnerable to.

We can study ourselves by asking “When I feel (insert emotion here), I often (insert action here).”

I think the results will surprise us and enlighten us. I know personally it’s helped me to lose weight as I realized that I tend to eat when I feel any number of emotions. Now that I see behind the curtain, I’m able to identify the times when this happens and can make better choices instead.

And the same thing happened with my gambling.

Gambling hasn’t been removed from my life through blocks or government bans, it’s been removed because I no longer see it as a pathway towards fixing an emotional issue or shortcoming.


If we spend more time educating ourselves and others on our emotions and how they impact our decisions, we become empowered independent of external messaging.

While prohibition doesn’t work, education does and it’s been quite magical to implement in each and every area of my life.