Drugs Part 10: Addiction

I am beyond fortunate to be able to sit here, healthier than I’ve ever been in my life, and recall my drug days with candour, detachment, and a touch of whimsy. The damage done in my youth because of drug use has been great but not insurmountable. I lost nearly everything I own in 2002 because of irresponsibility and insobriety. I have tarnished friendships and made the lives of people I cared deeply for worse simply by being in their lives. And I suffered a bit of dental damage from not taking proper care of my teeth.

I’ve also had some of the most amazing times of my life while high. Beautiful times touching the sky and dancing in waves of bliss. I’ve seen things otherwise unimaginable. My mind has been opened to ravenous possibilities. My imagination set on fire. And through my drug use, I’ve been able to accept many aspects of myself otherwise denied and ignored, as well as come to terms with many of the destructive and detrimental elements of my childhood.

Throughout my years, after all my experiences (good and bad), I’m left with an opinion that isn’t a popular one: addiction is not a disease. Not in the slightest. I don’t deny that substance use (no matter the substance) changes the brain and how it works over time. I don’t deny that people can become physically dependent on drugs, especially things like alcohol and heroin. But a disease? No.

There was never a point where I felt overwhelmingly compelled to use any substance. Where I was completely and utterly helpless. Powerless to do anything other than consume a drug. Not once was I at home fiending uncontrollably to get high, forcing me to call around to several dealers to find something to get high off of, then retrieve money, then gone and met up with them, exchanging money for goods, then gotten high. That’s not a disease. That’s behaviour. That’s desire. That’s habit.

A friend of mine confessed to me of his gambling addiction several years back. He said he was compelled to practically drain his bank account whenever he was near a slot or poker machine. I suggested simply, “Then don’t go around slot or poker machines.” He was perplexed by my response. My callousness. I’m sure whenever he confessed this problem to others, they showered him with pity and faux-understanding. I presented him with a simple solution. The puzzlement on his face was that of someone who’d been presented with something that had never occurred to them before (or had never been offered before).

Telling people they have a disease allows people who struggle with drug use to clutch desperately onto a feeling of helplessness. It excuses their behaviour in a way that permits them to use with more regularity. The thinking goes from “I really want to get high right now because I’m bored” to “I have to get high right now because I’m sick.” Most people who struggle with drug use have an emptiness inside them. Telling them they have a disease legitimizes that emptiness and subconsciously emboldens the desires to consume drugs instead of finding healthier ways of coping.

Proclaiming addiction a disease is no different than using scare tactics to frighten children away from trying drugs. It’s ineffective and dangerous and misunderstands deep-rooted issues. The best way to tackle the drug use/abuse problem is truthful, earnest education and understanding. Not telling people things like they are “powerless over their addiction” and their lives “had become unmanageable.” The first step of the 12 Step programme literally states “We admitted we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.” What a crock of shit.

Every drug I’ve consumed and written about I’ve managed to quit without once feeling powerless. Because I did not feel powerless, I was empowered enough to be able to quit on my own volition, without support groups or cessation drugs. I was able to recognise and engender within myself the willpower to quit numerous intoxicants cold turkey. I had the strength to stop using and stop consorting with those who were using because I never once believed I was powerless. And while aspects of my life might’ve gotten a bit out-of-control on a couple of occasions, never once did things become “unmanageable.”

This isn’t to say addiction isn’t a problem. It is. If you or someone you know is struggling with drugs then reach out and talk to someone about it. Needing help is not a sign of weakness. Struggling is not a sign of weakness. Everyone needs help and struggles at some point(s) in their lives. Never accept any feelings of helplessness or hopelessness. Most drug use is caused by boredom, loneliness, and/or pain. All can be cured simply by reaching out to someone – anyone. Even if emotional pain is your root, there are options outside of drug use. Talk about it, write about it, dance about it. Time heals all wounds but constant drug use stops the clock.

We’re living in an age where cannabis is being legalised across the country (and psilocybin mushrooms are starting to follow suit). In virtually every state and country that has adopted some form of decriminalisation/legalisation/regulation death from overdoses, drug-related crimes, and overall drug usage has declined. If today I wanted to buy a little weed, I can walk 2 blocks from my house and get regulated, safe, pretty decent weed at a pretty decent price. There’s no shame in admitting cannabis use anymore. There should be no shame in admitting to using any drug, regardless of its legality. Talking leads to understanding. Understanding leads to education.

Hopefully, someday, we’ll decriminalise and regulate all drugs. If people had access to clean, regulated drugs (even “hard” stuff like cocaine and heroin), we’d see the number of overdoses due to drug contamination decline rapidly. How many stories have you heard of someone overdosing from fentanyl-laced drugs? Regulate those drugs so that people know exactly what they’re using. Many of the Schedule 1 drugs like LSD and ecstasy as much less harmful to the body than legal “safe” drugs like nicotine and alcohol.

Across-the-board legalisation and regulation can only happen through engaging in open and honest dialogues about drug usage, with honest education about drugs and their effects (good and bad), and the understanding that addiction isn’t a disease that renders you powerless. Harm reduction instead of scare tactics. Treating users with respect instead of belittling them.

I don’t regret my past with drug use. It’s brought me to where I am today and for what it’s worth, I do think I would’ve been worse off in life had I never gone down the path I went down. Do I wish I’d made some different decisions? Sure, at times. But overall I don’t spend a lot of time lamenting what was or wasn’t. I fully believe that if I would’ve been properly educated about drugs and their effects (instead of ineffective lies via D.A.R.E.), my life would’ve turned out very differently. A lot of people’s lives would have.

That’s why I’ve wanted to write this 10-part series. There isn’t enough honest, open dialogue on either side of the drug issue. The anti-drug side likes to over-exaggerate facts and the pro-legalisation side likes to underplay facts. Neither wants to say there’s both good and bad to all drugs. That there’s a grey area. Drugs, when used for fun, can be a really great time. As a crutch, drugs seem momentarily supportive but in the long run, they are lofty and create more problems than they solve.

If you’re having trouble with drugs, stop using drugs. That’s my overly simplistic and maybe even a bit flippant advice to you. If drugs are ruining your life, then stop fucking doing them. You can handle whatever comedown follows. Trust me. Things might hurt but only momentarily. If you have a hole inside of you that aches, reach out to someone instead of reaching out to drugs. It’s okay to ask for help. Struggling does not make you weak. It’s easier than it sounds because addiction is not a disease and you are not powerless. Look at me. I did all sorts of drugs and quit them all with little-to-no issue and I’m prattling idiot. If I can do it, anyone can.