Drugs vs. DrugsPosted: October 11, 2012
Politics is a funny thing. It can shape our opinions based on hype. There’s only 24 hours in a day after all, so most of the “information” people get is filtered through mainstream media and other biased “middle men” as we shortcut our way to an opinion, and the politics of drug addiction is no exception.
The black and white politics of street drugs vs. pharmaceutical drugs is to me a hilarious separation of substances, since many street drugs started out as doctor prescribed remedies, or experimental pharmaceutical remedies at the least. This goes for heroin, cocaine, and MDMA. Certain pharmaceuticals are also commonly sold on the street for recreational use, such as OxyContin, Ritalin, Tylenol 3s, and morphine, just to name a few.
But street drug users are shamed, while pharmaceutical users are not, even though both “categories” carry the risk of abuse and toxicity. But alas, it is more socially acceptable to take anti-anxiety pills than to smoke pot to relieve anxiety, even though the pot might actually help with fewer negative side effects, especially if vaporized rather than smoked. But pot is illegal and therefore gets put in the “bad” category, and if you use it to self-medicate you risk being labeled a “pot head.” However, nobody gets labeled a “pill head” if they take anti-anxiety or SSRI pills every day, even if these drugs cause the user to want to hurt themselves or others. The prescription pills are socially sanctioned as “good” drugs, and people often think nothing of advertisements for such medications appearing in magazines or on television, along with their long list of side effects. It’s all framed as cutting edge medicine, while street drugs are the naughty “no no’s”.
The question of addiction is moot. Bruce K. Alexander has written an interesting paper titled “The Myth of Drug-Induced Addiction,” which notes that the idea that some drugs are inherently addictive has deeper roots in culture than in scientific empiricism.
This idea is augmented by the trauma-induced neurological explanations for addiction in the book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction, by Dr. Gabor Maté, M.D. The brain chemistry behind addictions is pretty interesting, and seems to even explain why I sometimes feel the uncontrollable urge to buy a bunch of nail polish I don’t need.
According to Maté, early environment and parental nurturing determines the levels of receptors for certain brain chemicals. When we have fewer receptors, we are more likely to use an addiction to trigger a larger release of chemicals in the brain. Another way of putting this might be that the addict is simply trying to “get normal.”
Our mainstream understanding of addicts as weak-willed individuals simply does not match up with the evidence that suggests the social and traumatic roots of addiction. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study for example, found that respondents with five or more adverse childhood experiences had a seven to ten times greater risk for substance abuse than those with none. It’s certainly true for me that I have coped with adverse childhood experiences with drugs, eating disorders, and even binge shopping (my ACE score was 7).
In my personal experience, I have found relief from smoking pot when I’m feeling anxious and stressed and have conversely not enjoyed it when I am already feeling really good. The pot took me to a “level” which was great if I was down, but which felt awful if I was already up naturally. Similarly, some people can take or leave alcohol or cocaine, while others can’t seem to stop and will risk jobs and relationships to get it. Addiction is not about the substance; it’s about the person, and that person is not necessarily stuck in a static state either.
Have I digressed too far? In summary, it’s not about the substances! We can get addicted to anything, but it is our childhood experiences are a major indicator of how susceptible we are to becoming addicted. So, it’s silly to judge me or others for choosing to smoke pot to relieve anxiety rather than taking anti-anxiety meds – or worse, if I eat Ben & Jerry’s by the pint while watching reruns of South Park. It’s all more or less the same thing.
~ “There are as many addictions as there are people.” – Dr. Gabor Maté, M.D.