FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Of Drugs and Demons

by DAVID MACARAY

Take these two divergent scenarios. In Scenario A, we have an Hispanic or African-American needle addict, who lives in a cheap flophouse in Los Angeles, and has been addicted to drugs most of his adult life. For brevity sake, we shall call him “Juan.” If a carload of college-educated, middle-class white people were to cruise Skid Row, and see Juan crouched in an alley, shooting up heroin, what would they say?

Again, these are educated white people, so they would definitely have an opinion. They might say, “Oh, my God, look at that guy.” Or: “Holy Christ! Let’s get out of here!” Or: “Why aren’t there any police around?” Or, if from the Westside: “Wow, this neighborhood has really deteriorated.” But one thing is certain: There’s not a chance in hell anyone in that car is going to allude to Juan’s existential crisis or “personal demons.”

In Scenario B, we have a famous actor, regarded not only as a movie star, but as a movie “artist,” who makes lots of money and lives in Manhattan. He has been addicted to drugs most of his adult life. We shall call him “Philip Seymour Hoffman.” If people were to see (or hear of) Hoffman injecting himself with heroin, or nodding off in a opiate-induced stupor, they would instantly (and empathetically) speculate about the “personal demons” this man must be fighting.

In short, if you’re a rich, successful artist who happens to be a dope fiend, people will invest your addiction with all sorts of existential import, as if the chemistry and addictive capacity of a celebrity’s brain were qualitatively different from those of a street person’s brain. If you’re Phil Hoffman, your addiction comes equipped with its own narrative, and it’s a tale of interior anguish and unimaginable demons. But if you’re Juan, you’re a congenital fuck-up who, more or less, just likes to get stoned.

Some years ago, as a labor union rep, I took a class dealing with the basic elements of substance addiction. Although the class wasn’t taught by a medical doctor or chemistry professor, the instructor (a clinical psychologist) did discuss the role of dopamine, neurotransmitters, and the brain’s “pleasure centers.” What really struck me were her observations regarding “individual differences in physiology.”

Using alcohol as the potentially addictive substance, she noted that if you took twenty (20) random men and women, and had each of them consume six (6) shots of vodka, you would get two sets of reactions, one “common,” and one individually “different.” As for the common set, because they are all human beings and alcohol has a “common” effect on human physiology, they would all be legally intoxicated. Some would be “drunker” than others, but they would all be drunk.

But it was the individual differences that were disturbing. Of the twenty people, there would be maybe two or three (she offered no specific percentage) who not only felt intense pleasure at being under the influence of alcohol, but who looked forward to recapture that feeling. And if they seek to recapture it (“chase the high”) enough times, they will begin to actually alter their brain chemistry, turning a quest for pleasure into a debilitating physical illness.

There were no personal demons in her presentation. Indeed, the only “demons” that Juan and Phil Hoffman could be said to be fighting were the biological demons of brain chemistry, the demons that, after showing these two wildly disparate men how amazingly good it felt to get high, caused them to want to stay high for the rest of their lives—Phil in the swanky confines of Manhattan, Juan on the mean streets of LA.

I knew a woman, the wife of a friend, who had never taken so much as one drink of alcohol—not a single beer, not a single glass of wine. Her reason? Because alcoholism ran in her family, she feared that she was already one of those “two or three” people waiting to become addicted and have her life ruined, and didn’t want to take that chance.

David Macaray is an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”).  dmacaray@earthlink.net

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
Libby Lunstrum - Patrick Bond
Militarizing Game Parks and Marketing Wildlife are Unsustainable Strategies
Andy Thayer
More Cops Will Worsen, Not Help, Chicago’s Violence Problem
Louis Yako
Can Westerners Help Refugees from War-torn Countries?
David Rosen
Rudy Giuliani & Trump’s Possible Cabinet
Joyce Nelson
TISA and the Privatization of Public Services
Pete Dolack
Global Warming Will Accelerate as Oceans Reach Limits of Remediation
Franklin Lamb
34 Years After the Sabra-Shatila Massacre
Cesar Chelala
How One Man Held off Nuclear War
Norman Pollack
Sovereign Immunity, War Crimes, and Compensation to 9/11 Families
Lamont Lilly
Standing Rock Stakes Claim for Sovereignty: Eyewitness Report From North Dakota
Barbara G. Ellis
A Sandernista Priority: Push Bernie’s Planks!
Hiroyuki Hamada
How Do We Dream the Dream of Peace Together?
Russell Mokhiber
From Rags and Robes to Speedos and Thongs: Why Trump is Crushing Clinton in WV
Julian Vigo
Living La Vida Loca
Aidan O'Brien
Where is Europe’s Duterte? 
Abel Cohen
Russia’s Improbable Role in Everything
Ron Jacobs
A Change Has Gotta’ Come
Uri Avnery
Shimon Peres and the Saga of Sisyphus
Graham Peebles
Ethiopian’s Crying out for Freedom and Justice
Robert Koehler
Stop the Killing
Thomas Knapp
Election 2016: Of Dog Legs and “Debates”
Yves Engler
The Media’s Biased Perspective
Victor Grossman
Omens From Berlin
Christopher Brauchli
Wells Fargo as Metaphor for the Trump Campaign
Nyla Ali Khan
War of Words Between India and Pakistan at the United Nations
Tom Barnard
Block the Bunker! Historic Victory Against Police Boondoggle in Seattle
James Rothenberg
Bullshit Recognition as Survival Tactic
Ed Rampell
A Tale of Billionaires & Ballot Bandits
Kristine Mattis
Persnickety Publishing Pet-Peeves
Charles R. Larson
Review: Helen Dewitt’s “The Last Samurai”
David Yearsley
Torture Chamber Music
September 22, 2016
Dave Lindorff
Wells Fargo’s Stumpf Leads the Way
Stan Cox
If There’s a World War II-Style Climate Mobilization, It has to Go All the Way—and Then Some
Binoy Kampmark
Source Betrayed: the Washington Post and Edward Snowden
John W. Whitehead
Wards of the Nanny State
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail