Gabriele Fis­ch­er was an expert at this years SURPRISE FACTORS SYMPOSIUM „Where does free­dom start and where does it end?” in Gmunden.

The Interview with Gabriele Fischer:

When you think about the con­nec­tion between free­dom and addic­tion, the issue often comes down to the free­dom of the indi­vid­ual to use sub­stances with­out inter­fer­ing with the free­dom of any­body else. But addic­tion car­ries with it a stig­ma. When you talk about some­one “being addict­ed” you are not talk­ing about some­thing good. Usu­al­ly peo­ple relate addic­tion to ille­gal drugs.

But glob­al­ly the great­est addic­tion is to food. A year ago the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion put out the num­bers that we have more peo­ple on the plan­et who are suf­fer­ing from being over­weight than under­weight. So while most peo­ple want to talk about the impli­ca­tions of hero­in addic­tion, for exam­ple, or cocaine addic­tion, the most impor­tant issue today are food and eat­ing dis­or­ders.

„Drugs and addic­tion are so polit­i­cal, that makes ratio­nal dis­cus­sions rarely pos­si­ble.”

The issue of free­dom comes in when the state gets involved. For exam­ple, recent­ly Recep Erdo­gan, the Pres­i­dent of Turkey, invit­ed to his palace men who had suc­cess­ful­ly stopped smok­ing. He decid­ed that the state needs to take over the respon­si­bil­i­ty when it comes to addic­tion to nico­tine. Nobody has the free­dom to use drugs, includ­ing nico­tine. And there is a new law that any­body who is suf­fer­ing from lung can­cer won’t be cov­ered by insur­ance any more. Now you apply that same idea to obe­si­ty and to peo­ple who are addict­ed to food. Would you say to some­one who needs a hip replace­ment oper­a­tion, “You are too big so we won’t pay for your oper­a­tion”?

Some of addic­tion is relat­ed to genes. But it’s also relat­ed to avail­abil­i­ty, it’s relat­ed to life events. Every­one knows, for exam­ple, if you have breast can­cer in your fam­i­ly you have a high­er like­li­hood because of genet­ic load­ing. The same is true of psy­chi­atric dis­or­ders. You are sub­ject to a spe­cial risk.

When it comes to addic­tion we have respon­si­bil­i­ty and free­dom. We can only live with free­dom if we also accept respon­si­bil­i­ty. Last evening we had a won­der­ful wine at din­ner. But we were tak­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty: We drank wine but we didn’t dri­ve. The oth­er exam­ple is tol­er­ance. Let’s say the own­er of a hotel sees that some­body has been drink­ing too much and still wants to dri­ve home. Let­ting him do that isn’t tol­er­ance; it’s INDIFFERENCE.

„Everyone is addicted to something.”

When I think of using drugs, includ­ing food, for me it comes down to the indi­vid­ual free­dom to decide what you want to take. But as soon as you become depen­dent, then you have lost your free­dom. If you need to smoke a cig­a­rette, you lose your free­dom. You are suf­fer­ing because you have lost your free­dom. You are restrict­ed from what you can do.

There’s a movie com­ing out about Janis Joplin who once said, “Freedom’s just anoth­er word for noth­ing left to lose.” She was very unhap­py as a young girl. She didn’t look very nice, and she took hero­in because it gave her a feel­ing of warmth and love. In her case it was the respon­si­bil­i­ty of oth­ers to help her. We need to take respon­si­bil­i­ty for some­one in this con­di­tion because the per­son her­self can’t judge any­more.

Personal data:

Gabriele Fis­ch­er is addic­tion researcher and pro­fes­sor of psy­chi­a­try, she heads the depart­ment for addic­tion research and ther­a­py at the Med­ical Uni­ver­si­ty of Vien­na. More­over, she is chief com­mis­sion­er of the OPCAT (Option­al Pro­to­col to the Con­ven­tion against Tor­ture) Aus­tria. As advi­sor to the UN and WHO she devel­oped treat­ment strate­gies for addict­ed women in Afghanistan that meet human rights stan­dards. Fis­ch­er has authored more than 180 pub­li­ca­tions and held more than 500 sci­en­tif­ic talks.

Fis­ch­er is con­sid­ered one of the best in her field of study. In her dai­ly work, she focuss­es on (drug) addic­tion and ded­i­cates her research to answer­ing the ques­tion what lim­i­ta­tions an addic­tion brings to the lives of affect­ed peo­ple and their social envi­ron­ment. As a sci­en­tist, she com­plet­ed parts of her edu­ca­tion at Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty, USA. In her field of research she has received numer­ous nation­al and inter­na­tion­al grants (EU, NIH).

As a co-founder of the Aus­tri­an health plat­form “Women for Women” (Frauen für Frauen – Gesund­heit im Bren­npunkt) Fis­ch­er estab­lished a plat­form, which ensures a bet­ter and more appro­pri­ate treat­ment of patients as well as a more effi­cient net­work among female med­ical per­son­nel par­tic­u­lar­ly in Vien­na.