Drugs: it’s complicated

June 2, 2010

This is a follow-up post to the June 2 post on Kate’s son’s death.

What do I really think about drugs?

It’s complicated.

I came of age in the late 1960s. Drugs were just coming on the scene in a big way.

The pot we smoked back then was positively weak, compared with the pot farmed today with sophisticated methods meant to increase potency. Mescaline, peyote, LSD, quaaludes: these were the drugs college kids experimented with. Heroin and coke? Not so much.

Most of us managed to grow up without addiction.

But some of us didn’t.

Addiction is a problem. A big one. But not for everyone.

I’m not sure that I completely buy the “addiction as disease” argument. But there may be no other explanation for the fact that one person can become addicted while 100 others do not. Or that many addicts can’t get clean even for any reason, even for the benefit of their beloved children. How does addiction reign supreme over a parent’s love for their kids?

I don’t know. I am not an addict. I can’t pretend to understand.

The addicts I know who are successfully clean are those who buy into the 12-step program 100%. They attend meetings frequently. They do the 12-step “speak.” They replace their addiction with another focus and it works. It seems to be the only thing that works. Because the addicts I know who do not buy completely into the program always relapse in one way or another.

The problem I have with anti-drug programs is that alcohol is excluded from the category.

And yet, I would bet that addiction to alcohol is by far the bigger problem. It’s legal. It’s more available. It’s cheap. It’s socially acceptable.

Ask any EMT or traffic cop about drunk driving. It kills. My former stepdaughter was hit by a drunk driver and is partly blind, deaf and in a wheelchair today because of it.

Ask any adult child of an alcoholic what it was like growing up.

When I hear anti-pot activists say that most drug addicts start with marijuana, I think “they probably actually started with alcohol.” And yet alcohol isn’t maligned in the same way.

(Actually, they probably all started with milk…another argument altogether.)

Here’s something from the American Council on Drug Education:

Alcohol is the oldest and most widely used drug in the world. Nearly half of all Americans over the age of 12 are consumers of alcohol. Although most drink only occasionally or moderately, there are an estimated 10 to 15 million alcoholics or problem drinkers in the United States, with more than 100,000 deaths each year attributed to alcohol. Among the nation’s alcoholics and problem drinkers are as many as 4.5 million adolescents, and adolescents are disproportionately involved in alcohol-related automobile accidents, the leading cause of death among Americans 15 to 24 years old.

Dealing with drunkenness and with alcohol-related accidents, crime, violence, and disturbances consumes more resources than any other aspect of police operations, while the health consequences of alcohol abuse add enormously to national health care costs. Illegal drugs can be more rapidly addicting than alcohol and may well have a more powerful effect on human behavior, but the high level of alcohol consumption, which is many times greater than the level of illegal drug use, makes it one of America’s most serious drug problems.

Why do we drink? We drink for the buzz. It’s bullshit when people say they love the taste of (fill in cocktail name). We may love the taste of ginger ale but we aren’t compelled to drink three or four of them in an evening out.

We drink for how it makes us feel. We drink for the buzz.

So it shouldn’t be too hard to understand that drugs provide their own buzz or high. And users like that feeling. Just like we enjoy our booze buzz.

One is socially acceptable. The other is not.

In the 1960s, we’d argue that adults had alcohol and we had pot: same thing, we said.

I’m not going to argue marijuana vs. alcohol today, although I think the studies are fairly clear that pot is a more benign drug than alcohol. If you’re interested in that topic, start here: http://www.saferchoice.org/content/view/24/53/

My point today is that we can’t talk about drug addiction without including alcohol in the category.

We need to address addiction in the broader sense. And not simply demonize drugs.

Because kids know it’s not that simple and they just don’t buy it.

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