Sunday, November 3, 2013

Drugs as a disease in society

This view one could say is widely held in the general population. Promoted mostly in the public arena by a variety of parties. The war on drugs approach typifies this view of drugs and alcohol in society. Indeed not uncommonly people will use terminology like 'disease' and ‘tearing at the fabric of society’ when talking about drugs and alcohol. Others will suggest that we are on the brink of a drug fueled crisis in society, especially with the youth of society. 

The most recent being the alleged are, methamphetamine and crack cocaine epidemics occurring in society. Such prophecies come and go but there is generally speaking a new one occurring semi regularly.

Of course there is considerable evidence to the contrary and in the field of addictions counselling it is widely acknowledged that the vast majority of drug and alcohol users suffer very few, if any deleterious effects. It is only a quite small group who do.

A similar result is seen when one assesses the results of the stated drug epidemics. I am not aware of any society in the history of mankind that has been reduced to anarchy or has even been significantly negatively impacted by a drug problem. Plenty of societies have collapsed because of political problems, economic problems or religious disputes. These things are far more dangerous to society than mood altering drugs.

Bend backs

Here is a chart of American rates of problematic usage of illicit drugs taken from the DSM 5 (Note: these are not the drug use rates but the problematic drug use rates)

Problematic drug use
Cannabis use disorder
3.4% (12 - 17 year olds)
1.5% (18+ years)
Hallucinogen use disorder
0.5% (12 - 17 year olds)
0.1% (18+ years)
Inhalant use disorder
0.4% (12 - 17 year olds)
0.02% (18+ years)
Opioid use disorder
0.37% (18+ years)
Sedative use disorder
0.3% (12 - 17 year olds)
0.2% (18+ years)
Amphetamine use disorder
0.2% (12 - 17 year olds)
0.2% (18+ years)
Cocaine use disorder
0.2% (12 - 17 year olds)
0.3% (18+ years)

As you can see they are very small numbers, again highlighting the point that problematic drug use only occurs in a very small group of the overall drug users

What are some of the possible consequences of this view that drugs are a disease in society? First it must be acknowledged that humans have been using mood altering drugs since civilization began

In my book - Working with drug and alcohol users - I state the following:

“The Australian Psychological Society (2005) note a long history of drug use in societies from all over the world. 

Alcohol use dates back at least eight thousand years.
Tobacco has also been used for many hundreds of years probably originating in the Americas before being taken to Europe
Evidence has shown that opium was used in Mesopotamia at least seven thousand years ago
Archeologists in Northern Europe found remnants of cannabis dating back to the fifth century B.C.
Hallucinogenic drugs have also been very widely used throughout history dating back at least seven thousand five hundred years. 

Mood altering drugs are not a new or abnormal in human society. The Australian Psychological Society (2005) states, “Substance use has always been and continues to be a part of ordinary human behaviour.” (p.36). However they are often seen as being abnormal and dangerous. Many governments, religions and various other groups over history have promoted mood altering drugs as bad and evil things which will destroy society and our youth.” (end quote)

From this it is fair to say that in the human psyche the use of mood altering drugs is a normal event for a substantial number of people. It is a psychologically normal thing to do. Thus we have our first problem.

Smoking woman

For a society to view itself as disease ridden is not a constructive thing. Indeed it could argued to be quite a deleterious thing for a society. Especially when what is seen as the disease is a psychologically normal thing for humans to do.

The 'war on drugs' and ‘drugs as a societal disease’ philosophy could be seen to significantly contribute to the view that we as a society have a disease or a bad bit in us. We are told this regularly in westernized societies. I wonder what it would be like if people started to see that drug use was not a disease in society. That it did not reflect a morally corrupt or dark bad bit in the cultural psyche. What would it feel like to feel good about ourselves in this way?

I know that in individual psychology for a person to stop seeing self as having a bad bit inside is a significant move forward with the corresponding increases in self respect and self esteem. If we as a society start doing the same would we as a society have the same positive results in our cultural psyches?