Name: Shreenidhi Anand
From: Tempe, AZ
Chasing Highs: Humanity vs. Drugs
The idea that first comes to mind when someone with minimal knowledge of addiction hears of addiction is one of two extremes – the highly romanticized party scene where someone is having the time of their life, or the bleak and dark scene where someone has completely succumbed to impulse and has lost all reason, a kind of pitiful yet disgusting creature. The first idea of addiction presented in many new adult books and movies convince young, impressionable minds that drugs are not all as bad as the experts say, because they are under the impression that something bad has clear and immediate negative consequences. For example, if you fall down while playing football and fracture your knee, the pain reminds you to pay attention to your surroundings and prevents you from playing for a while; if you take drugs, you only feel the pleasure it induces, and are free to do it as many times as you want to because nothing tells you it is a bad idea. When presented with drugs, people initially believe in the simple, naïve phrases “I’m strong enough to fight the addiction”, “I’ll never let myself get that far”, etc. and blindly follow the masses, trying out drugs because they can’t be too bad if some governments have decriminalized it, right?
But where does this need for drugs come from? Indirect peer pressure, comparisons to the “more successful” people, and societal pressure to be better than the people before you are the things to be blamed. In today’s present digital age, you are constantly bombarded on social media by people who are portrayed to be happier than you, more successful than you, more smarter than you, and in general better than you. You are then told that your goal in life should be being even better than these “role models”. Not only does this further encourage the highly destructive mindset of comparing yourself to others, something I sometimes still tend to do, it creates a never-ending cycle of doing something to get rid of a “deficiency” in your character, then being unsatisfied with the supposed value it adds to your character and then finding a new “deficiency” you have to work on getting rid of. Overwhelmed by their own thoughts, people turn to drugs and alcohol to “shut down their mind” – which is more like suppressing the function of the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that deals with reasoning and self-control. People turn to drugs more than other conventional and healthy options like therapy because it is more accessible, more convenient, and less mentally invasive. By less mentally invasive, I mean that the proposed solution to problems by drugs is more effective in less time than therapy. Therapy requires repeated, often draining, visits to the clinic, while drugs provide a way for someone to forget about their problems for a short, yet euphoric, period. Add in the increased expectation to be self-sufficient and independent, people are reluctant to admit that they require help from others and would rather postpone confronting the problem than work on solving it with someone. Addicts are further antagonized by society for being immoral, because they “couldn’t control themselves” and “acted like animals without reason”, when in reality there are people with a genetic inclination to addiction and people who simply fell victim to their circumstances. Instead of being supported through the difficult road out of addiction, some people further push addicts down the road by imposing these negative thoughts on them.
In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, he discusses habits and how they affect the character of a person. According to him, what makes a man’s character is what actions they perform, and in aim of what goal. By doing brave acts, one becomes brave; by doing cunning acts, one becomes cunning, and so on and so forth. This view of habit’s role on a person’s character affect the neuroscientific thought about habit. Neuroscience divides habit into habit-as-routine and habit-as-learning. I would categorize the addiction to drugs as a habit-as-routine, where cognitive function is less influential. Habits are linked to the basal ganglia, where the brain is wired to associate certain actions to certain rewards. Addiction leads to the belief that nothing else will provide the feel-good chemicals that drugs do, and hence one gets stuck into the habit of taking drugs, feeling pleasure from the high, and wanting the high again when sober because the stress from reality is too much for the brain to handle.
As an individual, the victim begins to distance themselves from family and loved ones, because they are unable to help personally in dealing with addiction, and the victim is unable to function in society because their reason is overpowered by their anxiety for their next high and the pleasure. Drugs become their only source of pleasure, and hence they begin to behave uncontrollably without it. Their loss of reason prevents them from making smart decisions for themselves, their loved ones, or their job. Instead of feeling stressed for their next project deadline, they feel stressed until their next high. They become a slave to the drug, essentially.
To combat this crisis, more education and research is needed beyond the simple “drugs are bad, so don’t do them”. This education must be made more accessible to people of all ages, but mostly to younger generations, because that is when they are the most impressionable. A healthier understanding of addiction than the above mentioned two ideas is imperative if we want people to recognize drugs as a serious problem. People need to understand that addiction is not merely a loss of self-control, it is much more complicated than that.
The idea of decriminalization is very highly argued, mainly because both the pros and cons of decriminalization both provide very valid arguments. Some believe that the decriminalization of drugs would lead to an even higher amount of people who fall victim to addiction, because there is a relatively small barrier between the people and the drugs legally, and because it could convey to the public that drugs are not too serious of a problem for the government to concern itself with. On the other hand, the decriminalization of drugs could lead to better control in the government of the drug trade, because its legality allowed for businesses to be regulated as is required. Regardless of the public stance on decriminalization, the addiction crisis should be considered very seriously. What the present addiction crisis calls for is the recognition, acceptance, and treatment of addiction, not the criticism of it.