Addiction is a topic very close to my heart for so many reasons. I think if most people look at their lives objectively, they’ll realise that either themselves or someone very close to them has in one way or another been effected by or experienced some type of addiction. Whether its to sugar, retail, weed, gambling, power, alcohol, cocaine or video games; they’re all as equally destructive and harmful as each other. The very nature of addiction, regardless of the substance, activity or act, is dangerous. To do something in complete excess, to the point that the individual loses sight of all other important values and aspects of life is deeply unhealthy. But addictions are a part of everyday life across the world. What I find both interesting and outrageous is that certain types of addiction are far more socially acceptable than others. And how we’ve been dealing with the most socially “unacceptable” addictions so far is beyond counter-productive. Its downright nonsensical.
For instance the addiction to power and profit is considered normal in today’s capitalistic society. It’s even highly revered and respected. A corporation’s greed for more monetary gain, more land and more ownership is considered an incredibly successful one; even if the aftermath involves polluted countrysides, disenfranchised and disgruntled employees and shitty products. You’re not a force to be reckoned with in the corporate world if you don’t have an insatiable thirst for profit, for power, for more. To be a “shark”, one needs to be ruthless and willing to do whatever it takes to reach the end goal; crushing whatever and whomever stands in their way. One could consider Donald Trump to be addicted to money (as well as an almighty dickhead). Notice though that whenever that addiction has landed him in masses of debt and bankruptcy and destroyed his relationships with his wife and family, he’s never been carted off to a rehab facility in a straight jacket with psychologists stroking at their beards, shrewdly analyzing his seemingly self-destructive behaviour in his bid for higher revenue, more phallic buildings named after him and a credible yet fearsome reputation in the business world.
But when Amy Winehouse deteriorated in front of our very eyes in a truly agonizing and long saga of narcotics, amphetamines, alcohol, self harming, self medicating and seriously unhealthy romantic relationships; we condemned her, shunned her. “She needs to take her own advice and send herelf to Rehab” we said. Tabloids labelled her a mess, a threat to society, an insult to the music industry, a disaster waiting to happen. Anyone with a shred of compassion and decency could see this girl was deeply tormented, seemingly powerless in her struggle to save herself from her own cruel demons. But according to the majority of the public, she was “mental”, “beyond help”, nothing but a “fucking druggie”. I’d argue her battle with both illegal and pharmaceutical drugs was equally as high in intensity and detrimental as Trump’s addiction to money and aggrandizement. But one is considered a tycoon, the other an all out wreck of a human being. Society’s standards.
The same goes for weight and health, our general appearance. The steroid-taking, gym-going body builder, spending day after day, night after night forcing themselves to be the most sculpted, strongest and physically dominant specimen they can be is considered the ultimate sports man/woman. They’re respected for their hardwork and determination. The fact they’ve lost sight of the truth that everyone dies eventually; how you looked during your tiny life-span is really quite irrelevant in the grand scheme of things; you can’t exactly take your perfectly chiselled physique with you when you croak, goes completely unnoticed. They’re Hercules, they’re Kratos, they’re well fucking hard. Never mind the unbelievable amount of strain they’re putting on their bodies, hearts and muscles. Nevermind the things they’ve sacrificed to get to where they are. Nevermind the amount of highly dangerous drugs they may well have taken to get there. Their addiction has supposedly got them somewhere important, somewhere worth being.
The social perception of the addiction to incessant dieting bears within itself a fine line. Beauty magazines vary from page to page as to whether they think you’re too skinny or too fat. According to them neither of these is a good thing. And just being yourself certainly isn’t acceptable either.
“Look at Beyonce, look how much weight she’s gained. Look at how fat Kim Kardashian got during her pregnancy. Look at the state of Nicole Richie, you can see her rib cage. Look at the lengths Holly Hagan went to to lose her belly flab.”
Depending on the nature of the individual’s circumstances, the state of their weight loss/gain can easily be manouvered into being either a negative or positive thing. It depends on which agenda that magazine is looking to perpetuate that day.
Whatever you do, don’t get fat. But don’t be too skinny either. Take these diet pills. But not too many otherwise you’ll get ill and we’ll chastise you for it . Eat this salad. But not everyday or you’ll be criticised for trying too hard. Exercise everyday but don’t go overboard or we’ll decide you clearly have nothing better going on in your life. She’s lost a tonne of weight; I bet she had liposuction, I bet she’s bitterly unhappy, I bet she did it for her boyfriend.
You cannot fucking win. But the addiction to our personal appearance, especially as women, is a perfectly acceptable one. You just have to see ten minutes of daytime TV advertising to grasp that. That is, until it lands you in a troublesome spot. Either you’ve reached gross levels of obesity or a dangerous point of anorexia; either one, you’ve clearly taken it too far and let your addiction to perception get the better of you. Shame on you. But if you’re attractive, of an acceptable weight, always seemingly preened to perfection; you’re doing just gravy. It doesn’t matter that you’re spending six hours a morning, wasting thousands of pounds and exhausting yourself both physically and mentally on a daily basis just to look like that. The fact is that you look like that and that is AOK. Keep it up.
The cultural paradigm of what is an acceptable addiction is a mind boggling one. For instance; smokers in most lines of work are given breaks when non-smokers aren’t. I actually started smoking rollies again a few years ago so that the restaurant I worked in would give me a five minute break every few hours. But if you’re not addicted to nicotine you can bet your ass you ain’t getting no break. Only people with health jeopardising addictions get that luxury.
For funsies, lets imagine you’ve started your new job and your manager’s showing you the ropes and asks, with the intention of informing you of your right to frequent breaks, “Are you a smoker?” You respond; “No but I’m a very frequent intervenous drug user.” You can bet your ass you ain’t getting no break. What’s more, you’re probably getting fired. And a courtesy visit from your local law enforcement officer to verify this claim and stop you from participating in your somewhat illegal past time.
Similar scenario; you make a new friend at University and they promptly ask you at the end of your Friday lectures, “Fancy a beer?” More often than not, especially in a University atmosphere, ‘a beer’ will lead to twelve more, some wild and crazy dancing, some poorly made decisions involving the boy whose been giving you “the eyes” during Philosophy, a badly judged comment aimed at a stranger subsequently leading to a somewhat heated and violent confrontation in the street, an embarrassing spat of public urination, a battered kneecap thanks to a fruitless bid to walk in a straight line down the high street, a seriously questionable kebab, a ridiculously expensive taxi-ride home followed by enthusiastic vomiting outside your front door, a shitty nights sleep and a head splitting hangover (you know, alcohol poisioning). Good time all round, most would say. You’re a freak if you don’t want to do that, a lot would think. But if instead of accepting that fairly innocent invitation to cause serious harm to your liver and brain cells, you say “Nah but I’d be keen to smoke some crack” most people would give you a pretty unsure look and back away rather timidly. You’d then be branded a “crack-addict” and more than likely struggle to make any more friends, let alone someone whom you can rely upon for the answers in the next exam.
Internationally, tobacco is responsible for over 5 and a half million deaths every year (thats a holocaust every year) but it is welcomed with open arms, legal in most countries. Smoking is accountable for over a quarter of all cancer related deaths in the UK. To name but a few chemicals, there is carbon monoxide, arsenic, formaldehyde and cyanide in the average cigarette. But tobacco companies bring in BILLIONS of pounds worth of revenue each year, so ya know, every cloud and all that…
Alcohol is THE MOST harmful and socially destructive substance on the planet. But we welcome it too with open arms. It is legal in most countries. A terrifyingly high amount of rape and murder cases involve the use and abuse of alcohol. Your average police man’s Friday and Saturday nights are made a living hell because of alcohol consumption. In 2014 the UK alone there were nearly 9000 recorded alcohol related deaths. Per year, alcohol consumption and abuse is responsible for over £21bn worth of needless healthcare and criminal costs. Superceded only by smoking and obesity, alcohol abuse is responsible for an unfathomable amount of diseases. I personally, can confidently and safely say, two of the worst things to have ever happened to me would NOT have happened if myself and the person/people involved had not been drunk. It clouds your judgement, dulls your senses, slows your reactions, heightens your (mostly irrational) emotions, makes you physically and mentally unwell in both the short and long term, costs an insane amount of money when consumed regularly and turns perfectly nice amiable people into argumentative, arrogant, contemptuous dick heads. But its perfectly legal. And acceptable. And cool might I add.
I’m not going to counteract the aforementioned points by singing crack’s praises. I’m not saying smoking crack is better than having a fag break or a few drinks with a Uni mate. Crack is whack yo. I am merely pointing out our society’s somewhat illogical standards.
Then there’s marijuana. Has ethanol ever been recorded or observed to have cured cancer? No. But cannabis oil has. Have you ever heard of someone smoking illogical amounts of marijuana then raping someone? No. Whereas that happens A LOT worldwide under the influence of alcohol. I personally (and I’ve had a lot of experience to back up this point) have never encountered someone to get so ridiculously stoned to then suffer such a drastic change in personality and temperament that they literally become repulsive to me. The amount of times its happened to me involving over-consumption of alcohol I’ve genuinely lost count of.
JESUS CHRIST. IT GROWS OUT OF THE GROUND, PEOPLE.
When high; you eat a lot. You laugh a lot. You theorize and analyze the planet as you know it. You look at the stars and feel the full magnitude of the universe’s enormity. You fall asleep. And sleep bloody well I might add. You have a pretty innocent and all round fun time. Yes, it’s rather counter productive when used in excess. Stoners are renowned for being utterly useless and unreliable. There’s been studies and tests that hypothesise that the abuse of it can lead to mental health issues (there’s also been a lot of case studies and tests that complete discount that theory too). But all in all, again drawing on my own experience here (as that is all I really have to go off at the end of the day), stoners are a lot more likeable, safer and friendly characters than alcoholics. Call me biased, its fine. YET alcohol is the legal substance that is always readily available to be purchased from almost anywhere anytime. In a city you are pretty much never more than ten feet away from a pub, bar or off-licence. But Joe Bloggs down the road who sells and smokes a bit of ganja whom has a very quiet and unremarkable existence. Well he’s a fucking criminal.
I could SO easily make this blog entry about how nonsensical and unfair I think it is that weed is the illegal substance and alcohol the completely legal and seemingly acceptable one but I have a point about addiction I hope to eventually make. Seriously though, look into it; its fucking barbaric. Watch ‘The Culture High’ – fascinating documentary on the political and financial benefits of the criminalizing of weed.
Whether its poker, caffeine, sex, food or prescription drugs you’re addicted to, you’re ultimately suffering from addiction. Agreed? Agreed. Well, I personally believe ‘addiction’ is a disease. That can get very easily minsterpreted when you say ‘alcoholism’ or ‘heroin addiction’ is a ‘disease’. Some would get enraged and say cancer is a disease, schizophrenia is a disease, tuberculosis is a disease, an addiction to wine or heroin is not a disease, its a choice. But ‘addiction’; the condition of being dependent on a particular substance or activity, is in itself a disease, a mental illness.
I cringe and become engraged when people say addiction is a decision or lifestyle choice. I genuinely think its no more a ‘choice’ than being gay is. When I hear that, aside from feeling offended on the behalf of many people I know and love, I want to ask the idiot saying it to look at the average addict’s day to day struggle: the health impacts both physical and mental, stress and depression, insomnia, inconsistency in emotional stability, financial issues, turbulent and fractured relationships and friendships, self-loathing. Its really quite hard to believe that that person has happily ‘chosen’ that way of life. All those factors are inconvenient side effects of a perilous battle with their own addiction. An addiction that myself and many others (a lot more informed and educated in the field) believe isn’t their fault.
Case studies and experiments have been carried out for years and years to prove that a predisposition to addiction can be determined as early as in utero. For example a British study concluded that pregnant women whom suffered great deals of abuse whilst pregnant developed high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. This coritsol was prevalent in the child’s placenta after birth. The existence of such a damaging hormone, one that has been proven to physically change the shape and operation of someone’s brain over prolonged periods of time, can genetically develop within the child’s brain a predisposition for addiction. It could also cause a genetic predisposition for violence or schizophernia for example. The effects that stress, depression and anxiety can have on a pregnant woman and thus her developing baby can be catastrophic. The creation of an addict can start as early as conception.
Carrying out such an examination is obviously a controversial one, as I’m sure you can imagine. Few women are willing to become test subjects or ‘guinea pigs’ when growing their beloved son or daughter inside them. I know I wouldn’t be jumping at the offer. But when the opportunity presented itself in the 80’s in a small town in Canada, a particular psychologist felt compelled to examine the unpleasant conditions around the pregnant women in that town and the toll they could take on a developing foetus. The town had been struck with an incredibly bad snow storm, one of the worst for centuries and found itself for over 2 months being cut off from the rest of the world. Public transport was inactive, commercial food transportation both in and out had to be cancelled so super markets were rapidly running out of stock, schools and places of business were closed so people were frustrated, bored and aimless let alone unable to make money; life as they knew it had to come to a temporary stop as they dealt with the implications of such a dramatic meterological disaster. The women who agreed to take part in the study were monitored from the beginning of the storm all the way to labour, to the point where their child had reached 18 years of age. The main knock-on effects the horrendous storm had had, meant that the women were spending prolonged periods of time hungry; rationing had become mandatory. They were tired, over-worked and over-exerted due to constantly shovelling their driveways, walking everywhere in less than perfect conditions and constantly looking for means of keeping their homes warm as many lost power and therefore their central heating. They weren’t sleeping well due to (aside from just being pregnant and uncomfortable) the sheer stress of the situation and the physical and emotional toll it was having on themselves and the rest of their families. They were anxious, cold, stressed and scared for the future. All of which the babies inside them were detecting, feeling and absorbing. Upon publication of the psychologist’s findings, she discovered that of the 90-something children that were monitored, almost all of them went on to develop either some sort of mental health issue, social interaction issue, learning disability or most commonly, an addiction of some type.
Now I’m not saying anyone who has a stressful pregnancy is going to give birth to a drug addict. There are hundreds of thousands of people out there who probably had a far from ideal time in the womb yet still went on to live healthy, fruitful, stable lives. But many experts theorize that environment too has a great deal to do with it; if your early neuro-development gave you a genetic predisposition for addiction and you then went on to live in an environment that was unstable, unsafe, physically or emotionally painful, grief-stricken or uncertain the chances are pretty damn high that you’re going to develop some form of addiction.
Take a look at the drug addicts you know. I can imagine most if not all of them had a pretty hellish upbringing and/or endured an emotionally testing time; be it divorce of their parents, death of a loved one or physical/emotional/sexual abuse. These have all been recognised as factors that can contribute to the making of an addict. Most serial killers; aggressive, psycho-sexual serial killers were abused as children or grew up around death and violence. Very few of them just decided on a whim one day to screw and then throttle a prostitute. My point being that both nature and nurture play their part in the making of someone with a predisposition for addiction, violence or mental health issues.
That’s not to say everyone who has an abusive upbringing is bound to inflict on their children the very same fate they endured. My dad was beaten as a child and has never raised a finger to me. I know people whom have had very traumatic upbringings and gone on to live perfectly functional and happy lives. But a predisposition is not the same as predetermination – just because someone is predisposed to develop a habit, addiction or compulsion doesn’t mean that they are bound to. Especially if their environment has not negated as such. Similar to that of the cancer gene; of 100 women whom have breast cancer, only 7 of them are likely to have the breast cancer gene, the other 93 are not. And those 7 with the gene aren’t actually guaranteed to develop breast cancer. Its a biological likeliness and possibility but not a categorical certainty.
I had this conversation with my mum a while ago whom disagrees somewhat with the theory that addiction is an illness and therefore not a choice. She like many others, sees the ‘genetic predisposition’ as a means of absolving responsibility from the individual. When the term, “its genetic” or “its hereditary” is used thesedays, its used as a way of relinquishing any responsibility for any wrong doing. “I was raised by smokers so it was inevitable I become one.” That isn’t completely true. But it’s not completely false either. When you consider the susceptibility a child has to impressionable behaviour, its pretty darn likely that child is going to grow up to be a smoker if all they saw all day every day was most of their family fagging away; especially if their mother smoked while pregnant with them. But they might not either. I think that outcome is down to the individual. Some people are more gifted in the will power department than others. Some people have naturally higher levels of seratonin than others. Some people are better at dealing with stressful situations than others. Some people are just downright better emotionally equipped than others. Some people may never know the nature of an all-encompassing addiction.
When I put the aforementioned research and own opinions to my mum she asked about people whom have had a perfectly lovely, healthy, safe, fulfilling upbringing – say celebrities for example, who grew up well with adoring, nurturing parents, went on to become successful and financially well off, achieved everything they ever wanted and yet still developed crippling addictions. I first of all, would like to know who this person/these people are (which is exactly what I said to her). I then brought up the age-old question about the girl who got everything she ever wanted; what happened to her afterwards? She felt pretty low and empty inside is what. The man who conquers the world will more than likely look down at his bountiful empire, examine all his marvellous accomplishments and accolades and think, ‘Right… Well… What now??’ That yearning for more, that vaccuous vastness that has the potential to be inside all of us, that can’t quite seem to be filled with love, work, hobbies or money can over time turn into a desperate and relentless pain. One that some people when presented with the opportunity can only seem to fill, albeit temporarily, with drugs. Just ask Russell Brand.
I then put to my mum the example of Dr Bruce Alexander, a Canadian experimental psychologist whom conducted a study in the 1960s on addiction and the environmental factors that can both positively and negatively affect it. He, quite arguably inhumanely and controversially, put together a group of rats, kept them in small cages with meagre amounts of food and drink, no social interaction – not even with the rats in the cages adjacent as they were fenced with sheet metal, no opportunities of sex or indeed procreation and all round very little stimulus or opportunities to occupy ones self. They were hooked up to a contraption that, should they push on a lever, would inject them with either heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine or morphine; the substance varying from experiment to experiment. All of them tried it and most of them continued to do it, some more times a day than others. Many went on to become fully fledged drug-addicts and several eventually died; prioritising their “fix” over food or drink. The media at the time was hysterical; the ‘War on Drugs’ waged by President Richard Nixon was viable, necessary and justifiable. This experiment supposedly categorically proved that drugs are dangerously addictive and downright detrimental. But Dr. Alexander decided to further the test’s findings by switching up the factors that influenced these rats decisions. He took a different set of rats and set them up in what he and his colleagues called ‘Rat Park’. This large plywood facility encouraged social interaction and sex as no boundaries or confinement existed within the park. They had ample food and drink. They were given toys, apparatus and exercise equipment designed to engage and occupy them whenever they wanted it. They were given naptimes and ‘recesses’ to encourage relaxation and ‘me-time’. They were in fucking rat DisneyLand. They were then hooked up to the same contraptions and although many pushed the lever and therefore tried the drug a la carte, very few of them returned to it. They instead preffered to spend their time exercising, sleeping, socialising and eating. They then switched up the method inwhich the drugs were administered; offering them a choice of pure water or heroin (or cocaine etc) laced water in their bottles. Most of them tried the heroin laced water, few returned to it; almost all of them by choice drank from the pure, un-drugged water. They then went on to switch up the sucrose levels of the drug laced water (they had to sweeten it with something to begin with or no fucker would have drunk it, can you imagine how bad cocaine water would taste?… Oops. No…. Me either…) to see whether it was in fact the drug itself or indeed the sugar that the rats who continued to return were being attracted to. Findings showed that given the choice of sugary heroin laced water and just sugary water, most of them just had a sweet tooth (What’s that? – Sugar’s more addictive than heroin? But its legal!!). They then added to Rat Park the previously caged rats whom had had a pretty shitty and limited life in solitary, drug-addled confinement. In their new fantastic surroundings, many of them recovered fully from their addictions. Most fought hard and long to overcome it; supplementing they’re penchant for sugary heroin-laced water with just sugary water or sugary heroin-laced water with a lower amont of heroin in. All in all Rat Park was a resounding success. Or not, depending on how you looked at it.
The point of Rat Park was to prove that given the right environment, social and physical stimuli, very few have the need to turn to drugs. If you put that into modern day, non-rat context you can envisage a healthy, happy, well socialised, well sexed and well exercised individual in a safe suburban area; give him the opportunity to test his emotional and mental wellbeing not to mention his physical health with intravenous drugs, chances are he’s not going to want to oblige. Take a bored, unhappy, poorly educated introvert, who has suffered great amounts of physical and emotional abuse and associates general day to day life with pain, suffering and hardship; offer him the warm embracing hug that heroin so apparently provides, chances are he’s gonna wanna take it. He has little else going for him. Look at drug use in ghettos, slums and favelas (and all other internation you’re given a cheap and easy method of numbing your pain with a drug that makes all the uncertainty, fear and pain disappear, especially when almost everyone else around you is doing it, there’s a high chance you’re gonna take it. Look at the average homeless person in your hometown. There isn’t much point in them purchasing himself a CD rack, foot stool or even a nourishing meal with the measly £20 he’s managed to save up over time from kind stranger’s donations when his abode is the stoop of a bank and his blanket is a newspaper; he’s probably gonna wanna smoke some crack to get himself through the night. Especially if you consider the adversity and misfortune he endured that caused him to be living on that freezing cold step in the first place.
Cos thats what people forget. Drugs make you forget. Even just smoking a doob can simply put your day’s problems at bay; let you detach from the incessant buzzing of your hard working brain, provide you with the semblance and positive attitude necessary for facing up to the shit that wound you up in the first place. Can you imagine what crack or heroin does for you? I bet its like going from sitting on a freezing cold curbside with barely any clothes, money or will for life, to being in the bosom of a warm fuzzy rainbow, surrounded by warmth and glitter and positivity and unicorns or some shit.
What Dr Alexander’s experiment also provocatively questioned was the now nearly century-old myth that drugs are inherently deeply addictive. Dr Gabor Maté; a specialist physician and expert in the field of addiction (also an author and teacher) doesn’t just have an incredibly therapeutic voice but believes that the drug/activity/object itself isn’t what is addictive. For instance a deck of cards on their own aren’t addictive; it is the gambler whose addicted to them. If, like according to most Fox New broadcasters, the “devil’s lettuce” is just so damn addictive, due to its supposedly highly dangerous and enslaving THC content, then how come so many people can smoke it and never touch it again? Or dabble in it for a few years then ‘kick the habit’ when they so wish to? Why can some people play an Xbox game just once and never so much as think about it again whereas others find themselves constantly glued to it? Why can some people use a slot machine once in their lives then never feel compelled to do so again? The term ‘addictive personality’ hasn’t just come from nowhere. The act of sex is not addictive. The process of shopping is not addictive. A donut is not addictive. And Dr Maté believes that heroin, crack, weed, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine – all the substances that mainstream media and our parents and teachers have us believe are the most addictive things on the planet, are not in fact addictive at all. Sex, shopping, donuts and heroin maybe addictive to you but thats down to you and your personality/psyche/genetic make-up. It is the individual whom has the addiction.
I’ve often puzzled over the fact that if the substance itself isn’t addictive; its the individual who bears the addiction to it, why are drugs illegal? Its completely and utterly irrelevant to a drug addict that what they are doing/taking is in fact illegal. They’re ADDICTED, they don’t care. As Russell Brand so candidly points out in ‘Messiah Complex’; a junkie, whose entire existence circumvents around his need for heroin and how he’s next going to get it, isn’t exactly going to stop mid-needle-injection when someone informs him that what he is doing is infact a breach of the law.
“What do you mean its illegal?? I’ve been doing this for ages!… Shit, well I better find a new hobby then!”
Not likely. The prospect of being penalised, punished and incarcerated is a mere inconvenience to a drug addict when they’re in the throngs of addiction. A theoretical notion, an off-chance, a risk considered to be far smaller and of less importance than the actual addiction itself. Show me one addict who will happily, easily and voluntarily give their addiction the boot when you remind them they face a hefty prison sentence if caught under the influence or indeed selling or buying it. Bet you won’t find one. I for one, when supporting my £50-£100 a week weed problem, never once felt the gravity of what I was doing hit me in its full capacity in a legal sense. The prospect of a criminal record or if caught a second time an indefinite fine and likely jail term, at the very least community service, never even really occurred to me. All I cared about was getting the weed. It can be argued that a stoner’s life; surrounded by fellow stoners, operating and acting in a normalised and care-free environment, has little room or time to consider the legality of the activity, given that its become second nature to them. Unless of course your mind has allowed you to descend into complete and utter paranoia and the fear of being reprimanded is all you can think about. In which case I think its time you gave up the ghost. Paranoia is nobody’s ally.
My point is; in the depths of addiction, the main thought at the fore front of the addict’s mind is surprise surprise, their addiction, whether they’re actively aware of it or not. How they’re going to fund it, when they’re next to going to satiate it, how all-consuming it is, if and when they’re ever going to give up. Never does the thought “I should probably bop this on the head given the whole illegal thing” occur to them. If it does, its a fleeting moment thats pretty much always followed up by a deep inhale on a spliff/crack pipe and the thought that the war on drugs is a farce, a conspiracy, a con and a complete waste of government spending and time. Or that its bloody unlikely to ever actually happen to them.
So with this in mind; surely the course of action when solving the international epidemic that is drug addiction i.e investment in rehabilitation, therapy and day by day recovery makes far more sense than criminalizing the activity? Filling the world’s prisons with addicts whom desperately need help, caring and understanding does not solve the entrenched problem of addiction. Investing money into the “War on Drugs” as opposed to “Attempting to Cure Those Whom Are Addicted to Drugs” seems complete ludicrous to me. Many prisons in the USA are given quotas they need to fill; a certain amount of inmates they need in order to receive funding and keep their private investors happy. In turn, law enforcement officers are given targets they must meet in the amount of drug-offendors they catch and arrest each month in order to meet the prison’s quotas or receive a decent pay packet. Certain states have even brought into fruition ‘Mandatory Minimum Sentences’; meaning if you’re apprehended committing a drug offence once; you’ll more than likely be slapped on the wrist, fined, given community service or serve a small jail term. Get caught a second time (which is likely cos you know, you’re an addict) committing a ‘drug offence’ and BAM! straight up 25 year prison sentence. Even if that second offence is being caught trotting down the street with a handful of ganja in your pocket. NOWHERE in any of those rules or practices does it seem that anyone cares about aiding the issue that causes addiction in the first place. All I hear is profit, profit, profit.
How we do things does not work. It is not working. Imprisoning someone with deep seated emotional issues manifesting themselves in addiction to the point where they’ve deigned to commit theft, burglary, sexual/physical assault or even murder will not fix the deep seated issue. If anything its going to exarcebate it. On what planet does providing someone already under an immense amount of stress and pressure with even more stress or pressure, solve anything? Especially when all the money invested into their imprisonment has gone on their incarceration and term spent inside, not their aftercare once the sentence is served. Instead, upon release, they’re known and treated as a criminal, given an ugly permanent record, scorched with an identity as a delinquent; untrustworthy, un-hireable, a menace to society. What hope does someone have, should they by some unworldly miracle decide or manage to get clean during their time in prison if they do indeed survive, of integrating back into society when they’re sent back to the very home they used to take drugs in, near to the person they used to buy the drugs from, surrounded by the very people they used to do it with. When they can’t get work, they can’t move on, they can’t get the help they need, they can’t shake the perception they’ve been labelled with, they’re doomed to fail. Because ultimately help to come off drugs is contingent upon one of two things;
1 the kindness of strangers which is far and few between when it comes to dealing with addicts
Neither of those things come easy when you’ve just done a 25year stretch. Unless the individual is Pablo Escobar, in which case I don’t think they’re planning on coming off drugs anytime soon, they are more than likely living in poverty and barely have the funds to pay their rent, let alone pay for the privatised healthcare and rehabilitation they need to come out the other side of addiction. And like I said, kindness when it comes to addicts is more or less unheard of. Only ex-addicts seem to be nice to addicts.
A stellar example of the ineffectiveness and pointlessness of criminal action against addicts is Lamar Odom. His mother dead from cancer by the time he was 12 years old, his father a drug addict; he was raised by his beloved grandmother. He worked hard and trained to become a bold and formidable professional basketball player. He had a lucrative NBA contract and all the money he could ever need. He married the love of his life and became a reality TV star. But he is only human. He gave into demons that long affected him; lost many a dear friend and family member and fell into an expensive and dangerous crack addiction (interestingly the same path as his father). He lost his NBA contract and sponsorship after being slapped with a DUI. His marriage fell apart. He was named and shamed in the media. After years of being a drifting nobody, unable to get his life or his marriage back together, he wound up overdosing in a brothel in Vegas. As a result he found himself teetering on the edge of death having suffered multiple severe strokes, brain damage and organ failure. Still comatosed, receiving dialysis for his failing kidney while family members and friends stood by facing the likelihood they’d never again see him open his eyes; the Nevada police arrived and issued a search warrant. He was facing criminal charges for posession of cocaine. A brief look into this guy’s life story tells you straight away, he has seriously suffered enough as a result of his addiction; punishing him for a drug offence is going to do pretty much fuck all. Whilst having blood samples taken for the Nevada police force to test for drugs, nobody even thought he’d survive yet the most important port of call was to apparently reprimand and punish him for using cocaine in the first place. I learnt last month the District Attorney assigned to the case decided to in fact drop all charges. I seriously seriously doubt had the person lying in the hospital bed not been a wealthy and world renowned sportsman, this would have been the case. Things like this happen every day. People’s addictions drive them to the near point of death and the judicial system focus their attentions on punishing the person lying in the hospital bed. We care more about imprisoning people than helping fellow man; looking at what it is in our every day environment’s that leave people with what they feel is no other choice than to embark upon a crippling, soul-destroying, life-ruining addiction. The “War on Drugs” has created an ideology that addiction and mental health issues are a punishable failure, not something we as a society need to take responsibility for. What it in fact has created is a never ending cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies.
And you don’t even have to take my word for it. Just watch this and prepare to have your mind blown and your heart broken. “The House I Live in” – a documentary based on the disastrous consequences of the war on drugs in America.
I know its controversial and maybe to some even “new-age” to view addiction the way that I do. Its taken losing a few people from my life to see things this way. In the past I’ve spent a large period of time getting angry upon receiving news that yet another beautiful soul had been snatched from life too soon by their dependence on drugs. “How could they be so selfish as to put their loved ones through this trauma? How could they not see how loved they were?” And most commonly “Why didn’t they let themselves be saved? Why couldn’t I save them?” But I realised the anger is wasted. I think it was losing one person in particular last year, whom no matter how hard I try I will never accept or come to terms with their absence, when it really properly hit me; we’re all just people trying to do our best, trying to make the best decisions we can. Sometimes our hearts and heads don’t allow us to see clearly. Sometimes we just can’t be saved. This doesn’t deserve anger. It deserves compassion and support.
What we should do, on the back of these unfair and untimely losses, is try and do the best with the life we still have; offer help to the ones who are still struggling. Since losing my dear friend last year I’ve helped and supported another friend through their long-term addiction. I’ve not done much, sometime kindness is all it takes. Just letting someone know, despite the things they may have done in the past that has caused people in the present to turn their backs on them, that you’re there for them. Give them the faith and confidence they need to believe they can do better and be more. Be empathetic… Its far from easy. More often than not an addict by nature isn’t an easy person to help. They’re consumed. They’re lost. Many have committed reprehensible acts of betrayal to support their needs, maybe stabbed people in the back, done things that can be downright hard to forgive. But if they want to change, doing it with support is a lot more acheivable. Turning your back on them is going to solve nothing.
I’ve been around a multitude of addicts. I’ve actually had 3 partners whom suffered from various addictions. And I have to be honest; helping a friend get off heroin was easier than having a gambling addicted or alcoholic boyfriend. Perhaps it was the close proximity, the intense emotions, the unpredictability and inconsistency, the directness of how their actions affected me and ultimately our relationship. I, again, spent a lot of time angry. And very sad. But I can say safely, having learnt from trial and error, that nurturing, supporting and understanding one was a lot more successful than shouting at, punishing, guilt-tripping and giving ultimatums to the others. Again; its no fucking picnic. It takes a strong person to get over addiction but an equally strong person to support that person. Addiction is selfish. Its ugly. Even more so when it has gripped someone you love because it feels personal. But, I’ll say it again, offering that person compassion and support will be a lot mroe fruitful than any other approach. Johann Hari explains it beautifully: Ted Talks – Everything you think you know about addiction is a lie.
I hope its a perspective that will be more commonplace in the future; that addiction isn’t going to go away on its own and the way we’ve been doing it up until now hasn’t done a damned thing to help, somethings gotta give. Progress in countries like Ireland, Canada, Portugal, Uruguay, Netherlands etc give me faith that both politicians and the public are starting to wake up and change their ways. The results speak for themselves; the decrease in usage, deaths and illnesses (like HIV) in Portugal for example since the decriminialization of drugs is staggering. Look into it; the sense of morale and community, the increase in life expectancy as well as decrease in crime showing in the countries that are changing their approach to drugs is something that shouldn’t be ignored any longer. And while we wait for our Government to catch up with this seemingly simple approach maybe its up to as a human beings to get the ball rolling…