Why drink or use drugs at all?
Dear Stanton (hope you don’t object to the first name),
Thanks for taking the time to answer my rather vague questions. I will look into some of the sites you mention as well as your own definitions of addiction in The Addiction Experience. I have enjoyed reading your book The truth About Addiction and Recovery, which I picked up a few years ago and have been reading since I began thinking about modifying my drug habits a few months ago. (It certainly provides a balance to the NA meetings I also attend.) I find it well-argued and unmystifying. I once mentioned your book to a friend of mine, a distinguished and generally open-minded psychiatrist, who reared back at your name: I guess you have a bad rep in certain circles! I was surprised because Richard is the least dogmatic of men. I assumed (this was two years ago) he had probably not read anything of yours, just heard your name bandied about. The very notion that an alcoholic could ever drink again seemed to alarm him.
Quite apart from whether I or any other particular person should or should not use drugs, the question that seems to frighten everyone seems to be the one I asked: namely, the distinction between use and abuse or between heavy use and addiction. The whole issue is now so fraught with denial that no-one is even willing to think through the possibility that there might be a moderate use of a substance, or that there might indeed be benefits to it. The problem seems to me that the things we normally consider benefits — money, career success, even marriage or love relationships — are a good deal more tangible than the benefits of drinking or drugging. Itos hard to point to a solid benefit of having a few drinks every night, let alone getting drunk once in a while. In one sense you have absolutely nothing to show for it. And yet such activity might indeed be worthwhile. But people find it hard to believe that something which doesn’t translate into money in the bank or a promotion at work, something which really is merely pleasurable, could possibly count as a serious benefit. And yet, we’d be miserable without many of those pleasures!
Best wishes for your work,
You put that very well. I think you really expressed something well. If you go to “Overcoming disease treatment for addiction,” you will find an account by a man who resumed drinking and who expresses a joy at personal freedom and, yes, substance use, that is pretty stirring. He makes a good case that psychoactive use has important benefits — after all, an awful lot of people have been using them for an awfully long time.
I plan to revisit my answer to you on distinguishing between addicted and non-addicted substance use. Yours is not an easy topic and you’re pretty complex yourself, so it’s taking me some time to get a formal FAQ together.
P.S. The column is called “Ask Stanton,” so go ahead!
Perhaps your psychiatrist friend has heard of my obnoxious personality. However, I have another one or two others I reserve for special occasions, such as requests by decent human beings for help and advice.