Tag Archives: substance abuse

Substance abuse is in the person, not in the substance

Substance abuse is part of the person, not the substance.

That people feel the need to numb themselves, to switch off and escape, is almost always a result of something within that is really uncomfortable and hard to handle. Some have been abused, lost someone they love, been bullied or otherwise traumatized. Others feel bad in less visible ways. They suffer from anxiety, low self-esteem, they feel unimportant or unloved.

Many who flee into addiction have that in common that they lack other ways to cope. They stun themselves to escape. There are many ways to numbing oneself, many of which are legal but equally destructive as the illegal ways. The most obvious way is to numb oneself with drugs, where alcohol is the most common but also one of the most dangerous escape drugs. There are of course plenty of more or less dangerous substances, such as heroin, amphetamines and Spice. But if we really want to remedy abuse we need to understand that it is just as easy to abuse such things as gambling, sex, food and relationships.

The big problem with the Swedish drug policy is that it lacks this basic understanding. It chases symptoms (substances) instead of the root causes that drive people to flee from themselves. It is inherent in the very name – drug policy. It’s not an abuse policy. It’s not a policy of well-being. Everything prohibitionists have to say seems to focus almost solely on the substances.

The same backwards approach recurs in school drug education. The education essentially only tries to scare students from trying drugs. They are bombarded with terrible stories of drug abuse and a long list of negative effects that drugs can have. When I look back at my own education, I think it is remarkable that it never offered a single tool to take care of my mental health.

If we really want to reduce substance abuse we first need to help people to feel good. If we want people to feel good, we need to 1) not traumatize them, and 2) give them the tools to deal with the trauma that they will still be exposed to. If we really want to protect our young from abuse, we need to give them the tools to manage tough experiences in life, to process abuse, to handle losses and deal with bullying. They need to feel loved and important and included and given the opportunity to build a strong sense of self.

And those who still fall into addiction because they cannot find another way, we need to help. To help is something we do far too rarely today. Instead we pour our resources into chasing, controlling, forcing and punishing people. It is not only extremely costly for society, but it helps to perpetuate the problem. People do not recover by being systematically stigmatized, just as we cannot get children to stop fighting by beating sense into their heads.

Today’s drug policy is fundamentally flawed because it focuses on drugs, instead of focusing on people. Tear up the legislation and start over. Focus on people’s well-being. Redirect resources to not only help those stuck in addiction, but also to give everyone access to the tools to heal themselves from whatever they might want to flee from. In this way we will not only deal with abuse, but we will also put an end to a war that society wages against its own people and that it cannot possibly win.

Photo: Nalewka by The Integer Club on Flickr

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The most addictive drug I have ever tried

Snus is a typical Swedish tobacco product; pouches filled with tobacco that you put under your lip. Before I finally managed to break the habit I had a long series of relapses.

At one point a meditation brought me a clear vision that my front tooth was going to die if I do not immediately quit using it. Even though I knew the consequences, I could not stop. Indeed my front tooth died. That is how strong nicotine addiction is.

SnusdosorOn my last relapse I started collecting the cans they come in. The picture above shows some of the cans I used on that last relapse, before I finally managed to free myself. To be free, for me, means never to touch it again.

My experience is that nicotine is an incredibly addictive and destructive poison. An overwhelming majority of those who use nicotine are fully addicted, just as anyone who would use heroin, alcohol or amphetamines every day. Being without the poison more than a few hours is a challenge. Someone going cold turkey from nicotine is often fully comparable to someone doing the same from heavy narcotics.

The positive effects of nicotine are basically none.

Nicotine harms and kills more than all other drugs combined. Nevertheless, we imagine that it is less dangerous, because it is legal. Something is seriously wrong here. In our society, the most dangerous, most addictive drugs with the least positive effects are legal.

Now why do you think that is?

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Halted development

Small bottle label read 'drink me' by Heather Wizell on Flickr
Small bottle label read ‘drink me’ by Heather Wizell on Flickr

When you take up an addiction, your personal development in many areas usually ceases. A 30 year old who has abused substances for 15 years can thus emotionally, spiritually and socially still be on the level of a 15 year old.

I became an alcoholic in my late teens. When I finished drinking shortly after 30, I had not developed significantly emotionally and spiritually since adolescence. I had acquired education and work experience, but I was still as egocentric and self-absorbed as when I was 20. In addition, I had huge gaps in my social skills, since I had been drunk instead of perfecting them.

The psychedelics have been a great help to me, not only to break my addiction and get me moving forward, but also to catch up in my development. Psychedelics have challenged my beliefs, which made ​​it necessary for me to work on my self-image. I have worked to apply the insights that I have been given on psychedelics, which has made me a happy and eager co-creator of my own life, instead of a passive and complaining bystander.

I am incredibly grateful for all the help that psychedelics have given me, but must also point out that they don’t automatically fills all the gaps that the addiction has left. They have helped me to catch up, and in many respects also to go further, but from time to time I still find areas where my development is about 10 younger than my biological age.

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Two drug opponents that I’m having a hard time with

There are two common characteristics among drug opponents that I find particularly difficult.


Navigator by Thomas Abbs on Flickr
Navigator by Thomas Abbs on Flickr

Many drug opponents know remarkably little about drugs and how different substances work and are used. Some have certainly read about drugs, but the “knowledge” that it has provided is extremely thin because it is selective and not derived from their own experience. Nevertheless, they often think that they know quite a lot about drugs, in the same manner that you might think that you know something about Stockholm after having seen a map of Sweden. When I try to discuss substances with such a person, I feel like a senior local historian from Stockholm who meets a lost tourist. It becomes quite odd when the lost tourist, with map in hand, tries to lecture me about the nature of Stockholm.


lost by 55Laney69 on Flickr
lost by 55Laney69 on Flickr

There is a large group of prohibitionist drug opponents who actually do have personal experiences of drugs. They are often former addicts or family members of addicts who are projecting their own abusive behavior onto others. Since they cannot deal with a substance themselves, no one else should have the opportunity to either.

By the same coin, as a sober alcoholic I could argue that alcohol should be generally prohibited. I don’t think it should. I do not think that my previous addiction and my bad judgement should infringe on anyone else’s right to drink. However, I should probably be prohibited to drink, since I have demonstrated how badly I can handle it.

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Don’t blame the substance

Read in the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet (http://www.aftonbladet.se/nyheter/article15107039.ab) …

She lived a life of constant struggle against the drugs. Eventually the dope won – when Eva Rausing , 49, was found dead on Monday.

Ok? So the drugs have an agenda now? They’re out to kill us?
Or is this just another expression of the negative language that the propaganda machine has fed us about drugs?

I just suppose that we wouldn’t dream of writing (http://www.aftonbladet.se/nyheter/article14084927.ab):

He often drove too fast. Eventually the motorcycle won – when Pontus, 45, was found dead in the ditch.

To the extent that someone “won” it was the part of Eva Rausing that did not want to live. That part wasn’t in the drug. It was in her.

Love, The Deadly Drug by stephendun on Flickr
Love, The Deadly Drug by stephendun on Flickr

It’s just an expression, somebody might say. I say, this is actually a very important distinction to make. Drugs are often talked about as if the abuse is a part of the substance. As if substances have a will and a desire to harm. The abuse is NEVER in the substance. The abuse is ALWAYS in the person. If we want to talk seriously about substance abuse – if we actually want to help somebody – we need to move the focus from substance to the person.

Why does this person feel a need to numb him/herself? Why is this person fleeing? But when we begin to ask questions like those, we need to start taking responsibility, which is damn scary for everyone involved.

It’s more convenient to blame the substance. Nobody really has to feel bad. The drugs killed Eve and Whitney and your child. If the drugs just disappear everyone will be just fine.

No, wait a minute. That wasn’t it.

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