Have You Ever Noticed? People Take Drugs

Let’s see, I have three lead-ins to this post.  Lance Armstrong — American icon and seven-time Tour de France winner (when I was coming up, Americans weren’t even competing in the Tour) — has given up his fight against charges that he doped his way through his career, and surrendered his racing titles.  The Times coupled this event with baseball’s suspension of Melky Cabrera — a formerly nondescript hitter who is now leading the National League in hits and was most valuable player in the All-Star Game — for testing positive for performance drugs.  The Times’ description of the situation?  “The steroid era, as baseball has learned anew, is more likely to be a permanent state of affairs than a chapter.”

I wonder why athletes takes the risk of using performance-enhancing drugs?  Oh, I know, it makes them American icons, wins them tons of championships, and enhances their meager natural abilities to the point where they may compete at the highest professional levels.  (Ever hear of Dr. Faustus? You know, the guy who sold his soul to the devil for knowledge and power — this was before professional athletes got all the women.)

Okay, then last night I had dinner with the inestimable Sally Satel, perhaps the most polished anti-addiction-as-disease-and-other-reductive-brain ideas in America (yes, disease nutcakes, your worst fears are true: there is a conspiracy afoot to undermine the hedgemony over addiction and drugs exercised by the NIDANora Volkow, and the American Board of Addiction Medicine).  Sally knows all of that crap is bullshit, but is too polite to say so, putting it much more gentilely.  Sample conversation: so addicts’ brains light up when they see pictures of drug taking — so what — who knows which of them will/would actually then take drugs, and how does the biased sample in these studies compare with non-addicted drug users whose brains might light up similarly, but who aren’t included because they aren’t feckless enough to be caught up in NIDA cocaine-user brain research?

(By the way, no drugs were consumed at dinner — Sally is straight-arrow, and I’m a grandpa — although we did have one lingonberry margarita each.  Oh, yes, I paid for dinner.  We had just been discussing how my books had sold more than hers. Do you think I should have brought up that Sally has a job?)

Sally oppposes drug legalization on the basis of the logic: “If addiction isn’t an uncontrollable disease, then why not punish people out of drug use?”  An intellectually defensible position, but one that leaves out the part of the equation about what happens to all of those people who (a) don’t break laws other than using drugs, (b) are irreversibly harmed strictly due to their interactions with the criminal justice/prison system.

Which brings me to my third event.  Oh, before that, do you know how Joseph Kennedy made the fortune that embarked his clan on its dominance over American Democratic politics?  (I’ll leave that one rest for a bit.)  Well, first another question: have you noticed how many television series lately have been devoted to ordinary, mainstream, and successful people maunfacturing and selling illicit substances (let’s see, there’s Boardwalk EmpireBreaking BadWeeds)?

Okay, the third event is the release of the new Weinstein company movie,Lawless, based on the story of three brothers who sought the American dream in Prohibition Virginia through making and selling illegal moonshine — you know, like Joe Kennedy did, only Kennedy imported booze from Canada, and so he had a much higher-class, bound-to-succeed operation.  I wonder why people keep returning to the topic of the intersection of mainstream Americans and illicit substances?

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Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.