Why An Alcoholic Supports the Legalization of Illicit Drugs

Anybody who knows me understands that I have traveled a long and tortured road when it comes to substance abuse. The drugs I abused were completely legal – tobacco and alcohol – but at the height of my abuse I was up to two packs a day and well… consumed embarrassing amounts of liquor. On January 28, 1996 I stubbed out my last cigarette in a neighborhood noodle shop in north Kyoto Japan. In the early hours of December 1, 2000 I set down my last drink in Wilmington Delaware. I have been Straight Edge ever since, but the years of sobriety haven’t made me complacent. I realize that the hell I left behind is only a drink away and one is as close as the refrigerator in the kitchen (the Wife keeps beer and wine in the house).

I know what it feels like to crave something so badly that one’s world becomes focused on a single glass or tobacco-filled paper tube. I have trudged a mile through foot deep snow to buy cigarettes and lost my mind from nicotine withdrawal the dozens of times I tried – and failed – to quit. But in the end something more powerful than me pulled me out of my own private addiction hell and left me dumbfounded and humble towards addiction in the real world.

That humility has shown me that I have gotten off much more lightly than most. Search this journal for essays about my old drinking buddy, my sister-in-law, for an example of someone with both feet firmly planted in the pit of hell. Over the years I have seen others ruined by alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug abuse of seemingly a thousand different varieties and come to one conclusion: we as a people have yet to understand and treat addiction effectively.

Even as a recovering addict myself I can’t tell you what the solution is for addiction. What helped me was a swift and hard kick in the pants by the Wife combined with an iron will forged in my childhood by my mother. But I don’t claim to know what works for others.

What I can say beyond a reasonable doubt however is that jailing addicts does not help addiction. If anything it makes the addict’s situation worse while doing nothing to protect Society.

An addict’s first priority feeding the addiction by securing his or her drug. Everything else pales in comparison to this fundamental need. While I was in the African bush I never fell below a carton of Tanzanian Sportsmans and a bottle of scotch. Every six weeks I would take a long trip up Lake Tanganyika to get supplies for the research camp, and rebuild my stash. I ran out of coffee but I never once ran out of cigarettes over the course of an entire year in the isolated outpost.

Since my drugs were legal, they were easily obtained and therefore relatively cheap. I doubt that my annual bar tab and smokes budget ever consumed more than 5% of my income. Some – I’d hazard a guess and suggest that most addicts spend more on their dope than they take in. To make up the difference they lie, cheat and steal – often from their loved ones. Some also deal to make enough money to feed their addiction. These particular sad-sacks usually end up in shallow graves as their addiction forces them to steal from their suppliers.

Outsiders ask how they could do this – yet forget that the addicts first priority is securing her drug. Nothing else matters. It’s hard for non-addicts to understand this, but as Al-Anon teaches you have to accept it nevertheless.

As an addict to legalized drugs I live in a world awash with them. A clove cigarette smells so sweet on the Spring air, and nothing seems to get a man laid faster than a can of beer - if the commercials are to be believed that I see on television. But my personal history has taught me that sweet smelling cloves eventually lead to fetid Marlboros, and nothing  gets a man arrested faster than drinking a 12 pack of beer and smarting-off to a cop.

Addicts can’t live in a protected bubble forever. Eventually they have to leave rehab or the safety of their family to get on with their own lives and become responsible for themselves. Some will fail and die. Others will succeed in living a relatively decent life in spite of their addiction.  Still more will bounce between addiction and sobriety, leading uneasy and restless lives.

Of all the things I can blame for my addiction – my upbringing, my genetics – Society isn’t one of them. Sure I live in a permissive society where alcohol and tobacco are legal, yet the fact that heroin and meth aren’t permissible in our Society hasn’t stopped people from getting addicted to them.  Similarly there are drunks in Riyadh and Tehran – nations where alcohol is banned. The legality of a substance has little impact on its addiction, and to believe otherwise is to fail to understand the nature of addiction and underestimate its power.

Besides, it’s my disease – not Society’s. I own it, and I will not let anyone take away that tiny bit of power from me.

Legalizing illicit drugs is no panacea. It isn’t going to stop addiction, but at the same time it isn’t going to turn normal people into coke whores and junkies. The drugs don’t have that kind of power to the non-addict. It’s only those of us who are open to addiction that can become addicts.  One can even take opiates and not become an addict, as soldiers proved in Vietnam where over half of enlisted men in 1971 had tried opiates and half of those did not become addicted. Similarly there are even some who manage to smoke cigarettes without becoming addicted – something that I personally don’t get after my 17 year smoking “career”.  And most people who have a beer or glass of wine do not become alcoholics. In fact according to the US Dept. of Health and Human Services, approximately 7.4% of the US population meet the criteria for alcohol abuse. That means that at least the Government believes that 92.6% of Americans – around 280,000,000 – aren’t alcoholics.

For forty years America has waged a war on drugs, and all it has to show for it are casualties. But I’m arguing that these casualties exist whether we declare war on drugs or not. People are going to continue to die. Lives will continue to be ruined – whether we declare a war or not, whether we throw addicts into prison or not. The only way forward out of this mess is to take the first step and recognize that the problem of addiction is not a law and order problem, nor solely a medical or mental problem. It is all of these yet more – a spiritual problem that we have yet begun to understand let alone solve.

I’ve been sober for over 8 years now, but I still am terrified of losing the sobriety I have worked so long and hard for. All I can do is continue onward in the hope that someday Society will mature enough to begin to provide solutions for what has to be one of the most insidious problems anyone can face in his or her life.

No TweetBacks yet. (Be the first to Tweet this post)

25 Comments

  1. Do You Have A Problem With Your Drinking? | Self Help Blog:

    [...] The Razor » Blog Archive » Why An Alcoholic Supports the … [...]

  2. Watcher of Weasels » Tortured meanings:

    [...] The Razor – Why An Alcoholic Supports the Legalization of Illicit Drugs [...]

  3. The Glittering Eye » Blog Archive » Eye on the Watcher’s Council:

    [...] The Razor, “Why An Alcoholic Supports the Legalization of Illicit Drugs ” [...]

  4. sweetoea:

    Thanks for the insights. Our Texas town is still “dry” , but is set to vote on alcohol sales in the city in May. As a nurse, I have seen the ravages of addiction and appreciate your struggle,and courage.

  5. BT in SA:

    I don’t disagree with any of your arguments, but have a question that you didn’t address. You said, “An addict’s first priority feeding the addiction by securing his or her drug.” If it is legal – and, again, I don’t disagree – what is going to prevent the addict from stealing and committing robbery to get the $$$ to get their drugs? Nothing. Sure, those can continue to remain offenses for which one can be jailed. But it doesn’t solve any of the problems. I’m all for legalizing some drugs – the government can collect taxes on them. But we still need to address the crime problem that is associated with drugs. Solution? I know I don’t know what it is.

  6. Watcher of Weasels » So Many Tortured Firsts - Waterboarding Our Way To Policy:

    [...] Third place with 1 point – (T*) The Razor – Why An Alcoholic Supports the Legalization of Illicit Drugs [...]

  7. Scott Kirwin:

    Sweetoea and BT
    Legalization won’t stop addiction, but making it illegal turns a complex problem into a simple law and order one.

    At the heart of the debate lies this question: Can a substance turn a normal person into an addict? I know many people who can drink a beer or two without needing a third. Or fourth. I’ve even known people who smoked three or four cigarettes a night without becoming addicted. If alcohol has the power to turn a person into alcoholic, why did it fail to turn my wife into a drunk? If cigarettes cause addiction, why did it fail to turn my friends who smoked at clubs into heavy smokers?

    As a recovering alcoholic myself I know that I was a drunk before I was born. Alcohol directly killed my uncle and my grandfather. It contributed to my father’s and another grandfather’s death. All four men would be considered alcoholics today. As a child I stole my sister’s cigarettes and raided my father’s cabinet. I have no doubt that I was born a drunk and short of a magical cure I will die one.

    Considering what I’ve said, how would my life have gone in your dry Texas county, Sweetpoea? I would no doubt have had numerous run-ins with the law. Because of that record I could not work in the industry that I do today because it requires a thorough background check.

    But alcohol and cigarettes have been legal everywhere I have lived. Consequently I never had the run-ins with the cops that some have had. Because I have not had those run-ins I have been granted the help and opportunities I’ve needed to turn my life around. How many potheads and cokeheads haven’t had those same opportunities just because their drugs are illegal and mine weren’t?

    As for the theft… Nothing is going to stop an addict. The drunks I have met in AA regularly stole from everybody – their wives, their parents, their employers… Legalization won’t stop this.

    But legalization will stop making things worse for addicts. It will give the few of us with high bottoms the chance to recover some of the sanity we have lost to our disease. For those without bottoms it won’t make much difference: they will continue dying from crack-induced strokes and heart attacks just like smokers die from lung cancer and drunks die from liver failure.

    The current drug laws are ruining lives; they aren’t helping. It’s time for them to go.

  8. Dennis Hansen:

    Whether drugs are legalized or not doesn’t matter when addicts continue to found loopholes in the government’s system to stop drug-trafficking. This legalization process will only open the fluid-gate toward the distribution of narcotics. As long as there are drugs designed to numb physical and emotional pain there will be addict misusing them. The only defense toward the prevention and/ recovery of a potential addicts are programs that are set-up to teach the importance of finding other means of treating anxiety and depression. I’ve noticed that drugs and alcohol for many people represents the freedom of failure, but from the outside looking in this freedom that most addicts refer to seems to be the absolute tool wielded by their egotistical mind that creates the need for their self-destruction nature to rear its ugly head. This absent minded mentality is usually manifested by substance-abuse and can definitely give way to suicide, if not caught early enough (which usually comes abruptly at the end of an often times sicken realization of what they’ve become as a consequence of their actions). What constitutes an addiction? Its a substance ,in my mind, that renders a person incapable of sustaining at lease a toleratable existence and/ something that makes it almost impossible for a individual to salvish even the most minuet sliver of emotion or compassion toward human life. In my experience in working with recovering addicts is that one addiction will almost always lead to another, forming a viscous-cycle of depression. That unnerving feeling in the pit of your stomach can for some people be an immeasurable inner void that longs to be filled. The legalization process that you mention certainly won’t fill that void, especially when these illicit drugs you talk about can just as easily get into the hands of a child. Should we blame society for our philosophical angst? Of course not….completely. We tend to sugar coat every problem that occurs in life to make the situation more palatable. Eventually, an addict has to take accountability for the own addictions. I think its important to view substance abuse as an physiological disorder and not a mere flu or cold that need to be consistently medicated. Though drugs can often times resemble characteristics of a disease, that not only effects the physical body but the human psyche as well. The mind deteriorates slowly through the addiction process at this point you began to believe as though you look exactly the same as you first did when you started using if not better. It demoralizes its host and feeds off their insecurities and short-comings all the while creating a false illusion of self-appearance. Every ounce they sip, line they snort, drag they smoke, leads them further away from reality and even closer to death. Completely unaware that help is merely around the bin. Nothing beautiful can grow in the riddled roots of chaos that is drug and alcohol addiction, I promise you. The only organization that truly understands these habit-forming illnesses are therapist that specialize in dealing with this ongoing problems on day to day basis. I would advise anyone to seek professional help, immediately. Whether it is a close friend or family member, allow them to help you research a facility that would best suit your addict and then act accordingly to their plan of action. There are plenty of detoxification programs set-up throughout the united states that are willing to consult with you about your addiction. “By the way, congratulations for being sober for as long as you have!” I admire your resilience in persevering through what must of been a trying time in your life. I wish you the best of luck in your journey of sobriety!

    New Beginnings Detox

  9. Scott Kirwin:

    Dennis
    I can’t tell if you are a spambot or not (you posted your comment twice and I deleted your link just in case) but I’ll play…

    Whether drugs are legalized or not doesn’t matter when addicts continue to found loopholes in the government’s system to stop drug-trafficking.

    You imply that addicts are drug traffickers. While some are to support their habits, they are the small fish that usually end up dead or in jail.

    This legalization process will only open the fluid-gate toward the distribution of narcotics.

    So what? Our society is awash in many things that are bad for some but not others – yet we don’t ban potato chips, red meat or peanut butter. At least not yet.

    The only defense toward the prevention and/ recovery of a potential addicts are programs that are set-up to teach the importance of finding other means of treating anxiety and depression.
    Anxiety and depression are commonly associated with addiction, but it’s unclear whether the addiction causes anxiety/depression or results from it. Many people are diagnosed with depression yet don’t abuse drugs, while others abuse drugs without any signs of depression. This also ignores the genetic component to addiction which to the best of my knowledge has not been found for anxiety/depression.

    I’ve noticed that drugs and alcohol for many people represents the freedom of failure, but from the outside looking in this freedom that most addicts refer to seems to be the absolute tool wielded by their egotistical mind that creates the need for their self-destruction nature to rear its ugly head. This absent minded mentality is usually manifested by substance-abuse and can definitely give way to suicide, if not caught early enough (which usually comes abruptly at the end of an often times sicken realization of what they’ve become as a consequence of their actions).

    The addicts I know view their substance as a ball & chain; sure it’s fun at first but after awhile but eventually even the most hardcore users will admit that freedom isn’t a word that they’d associate with getting high. But egotistical? Absolutely. Addiction is the ultimate in self-centeredness and is often followed by suicide which in the case of addiction is the ultimate selfish act.

    What constitutes an addiction? Its a substance ,in my mind, that renders a person incapable of sustaining at lease a toleratable existence and/ something that makes it almost impossible for a individual to salvish even the most minuet sliver of emotion or compassion toward human life.

    I think that’s a pretty limited definition. Perhaps there are some who meet that definition but I think a broader definition is necessary.

    In my experience in working with recovering addicts is that one addiction will almost always lead to another, forming a viscous-cycle of depression. That unnerving feeling in the pit of your stomach can for some people be an immeasurable inner void that longs to be filled.

    Yep, that’s addiction. A void that needs to be filled. I view it as a demon that sucks the life out the addict – but I tend towards the dramatic.

    The legalization process that you mention certainly won’t fill that void, especially when these illicit drugs you talk about can just as easily get into the hands of a child.
    That’s a straw man argument, and the “what about the children?” argument has been so overused on everything from banning sugared soda to pornography. Honestly, that’s what parents are for.

    Should we blame society for our philosophical angst? Of course not….completely. ...consult with you about your addiction.

    Uhm… Is this a Turing Test? These statements don’t follow one another and seem to have little in common. I’ll write you off as a spambot but a pretty convincing one…

    Unfortunately whether silicon or carbon-based lifeform you ignored my central theme: addicts are born not created, and not everyone is an addict so why should everyone be punished for the failings of a few?

    I’m perhaps unique in that I am straight-edge (no drinking, smoking, drug taking or sex outside of marriage) and a recovering alcoholic yet I want to see all drugs legalized – starting with marijuana. We need to stop filling our prisons with non-violent criminals arrested and convicted on drug charges, and encourage basic research into addiction and the medical uses of drugs like LSD which to the best of my knowledge is the only drug that has successfully treated addiction.

    Crud I’m starting to sound like quite the hippy. Legalize pot! Research LSD! If I start listening to the Grateful Dead and wearing patchouli oil… Aieee!

  10. Chordoma » Blog Archive » Drug abuse:

    [...] The Razor » Blog Archive » Why An Alcoholic Supports the … [...]

  11. Dennis Hansen:

    I so happened to check back in with your blog because I thought you had a very interesting topic, and wanted to follow it to observe other peoples take on the issue as well. Reguardless of the link being took out, I still find myself ensnared by your outlook on addiction and felt that you had quite a compelling argument about the legalization process. I do fact feel apologetic about me posting twice, and wanted you to know that it wasn’t intentional. I’m sure at this point I really don’t need to tell you but just for the record I’m a human not a spambot. You can definitely check out my credentials on our (New Beginnings Detox) site for proof of who I am(Dennis Hansen, Executive Director of NBD). Well I guess I can thank you for not panging me for being completely robotic….lol. My computer was going a little haywire, so when I clicked on the “Submit Comment” the page went blank but at the bottom left-hand corner of my screen it said that the page was “done” loading. At that point, to be safer than sorry I posted again. I do hope you have a change of heart and allow me back the privilege of leaving the link of our company, if you don’t mind. If not, then well I had an enjoyable time posting on such an “arousing” topic. “Thank you again, and much success in the future!”.......By the way…the comment about, “We need to stop filling our prisons with non-violent criminals arrested and convicted on drug charges, and encourage basic research into addiction and the medical uses of drugs like LSD which to the best of my knowledge is the only drug that has successfully treated addiction,” I definitely don’t mind tipping my hat off to you. We may not agree on everything or see eye to eye on the subject of legalizing drugs but that comment you suggested about our failed judicial system’s lack of understand between criminals and addicts I agreed 110 percent on. Very well put!

  12. Scott Kirwin:

    Dennis
    You are human after all. LOL. Sorry about that but after 20 years on the “internet” I’ve gotten quite jaded when it comes to comments. I’ve restored the links – and will get back to the rest of your comment shortly…

  13. Watcher’s Council Nominations – Varmint Hunting In Texas Edition | Virginia Right!:

    […] The Razor – Why An Alcoholic Supports the Legalization of Illicit Drugs […]

  14. Watcher’s Council Nominations – Varmint Hunting In Texas Edition | therightplanet.com:

    […] The Razor – Why An Alcoholic Supports the Legalization of Illicit Drugs […]

  15. Watcher’s Council Nominations – Varmint Hunting In Texas Edition | NoisyRoom.net:

    […] The Razor – Why An Alcoholic Supports the Legalization of Illicit Drugs […]

  16. Trevor Loudon's New Zeal Blog » Watcher’s Council Nominations – Varmint Hunting In Texas Edition:

    […] The Razor – Why An Alcoholic Supports the Legalization of Illicit Drugs […]

  17. Watcher’s Council Nominations – Varmint Hunting In Texas Edition | www.independentsentinel.com:

    […] The Razor – Why An Alcoholic Supports the Legalization of Illicit Drugs […]

  18. The Council Has Spoken!! Our Watcher’s Council Results | Virginia Right!:

    […] Fifth place with 1 vote –The Razor – Why An Alcoholic Supports the Legalization of Illicit Drugs […]

  19. The Council Has Spoken!! Our Watcher’s Council Results – 05/08/15 | NoisyRoom.net:

    […] Fifth place with 1 vote – The Razor – Why An Alcoholic Supports the Legalization of Illicit Drugs […]

  20. Trevor Loudon's New Zeal Blog » The Council Has Spoken!! Our Watcher’s Council Results – 05/08/15:

    […] Fifth place with 1 vote – The Razor – Why An Alcoholic Supports the Legalization of Illicit Drugs […]

  21. The Council Has Spoken!! Our Watcher’s Council Results — 05/08/15 | therightplanet.com:

    […] Fifth place with 1 vote –The Razor – Why An Alcoholic Supports the Legalization of Illicit Drugs […]

  22. Tess:

    Why would she have Alcohol in the house, that in itself is stupid.

  23. The Council Has Spoken!! Our Watcher’s Council Results | askmarion:

    […] Fifth place with 1 vote –The Razor – Why An Alcoholic Supports the Legalization of Illicit Drugs […]

  24. The Razor » Blog Archive » Council Submissions: May 6, 2015:

    […] The Razor – Why An Alcoholic Supports the Legalization of Illicit Drugs […]

  25. The Razor » Blog Archive » The Council Has Spoken: May 8, 2015:

    […] Fifth place with 1 vote –The Razor – Why An Alcoholic Supports the Legalization of Illicit Drugs […]

Leave a comment