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

February 08, 2016
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Privatization: the Atlanticist Tactic to Attack Russia
Mumia Abu-Jamal
Water War Against the Poor: Flint and the Crimes of Capital
John V. Walsh
Did Hillary’s Machine Rig Iowa? The Highly Improbable Iowa Coin Tosses
Eliza A. Webb
Hillary Clinton’s Populist Charade
Uri Avnery
Optimism of the Will
Roy Eidelson Trudy Bond, Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner, Jean Maria Arrigo, Brad Olson, and Bryant Welch
Preserve Do-No-Harm for Military Psychologists: Coalition Responds to Department of Defense Letter to the APA
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, the UN and Meanings of Arbitrary Detention
Shamus Cooke
The Labor Movement’s Pearl Harbor Moment
W. T. Whitney
Cuba, War and Ana Belen Montes
Vincent Emanuele
The Curse and Failure of Identity Politics
Jim Goodman
Congress Must Kill the Trans Pacific Partnership
Peter White
Meeting John Ross
Colin Todhunter
Organic Agriculture, Capitalism and the Parallel World of the Pro-GMO Evangelist
Ralph Nader
They’re Just Not Answering!
Cesar Chelala
Beware of the Harm on Eyes Digital Devices Can Cause
Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
Leonard Peltier
My 40 Years in Prison
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Enrique C. Ochoa
Super Bowl 50: American Inequality on Display
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
Eoin Higgins
Please Clap: the Jeb Bush Campaign Pre-Mortem
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Invisible Epidemic: Radiation and Rising Rates of Thyroid Cancer
Andre Vltchek
Europe is Built on Corpses and Plunder
Jack Smith
Obama Readies to Fight in Libya, Again
Robert Fantina
As Goes Iowa, So Goes the Nation?
Dean Baker
Market Turmoil, the Fed and the Presidential Election
John Grant
Israel Moves to Check Its Artists
John Wight
Who Was Cecil Rhodes?
David Macaray
Will There Ever Be Anyone Better Than Bernie Sanders?
Christopher Brauchli
Suffer Little Children: From Brazil to Flint
JP Sottile
Did Fox News Help the GOP Establishment Get Its Groove Back?
Binoy Kampmark
Legalizing Cruelties: the Australian High Court and Indefinite Offshore Detention
John Feffer
Wrestling With Iran
Rob Prince – Ibrahim Kazerooni
Syria Again
Louisa Willcox
Park Service Finally Stands Up for Grizzlies and Us
Farzana Versey
Of Beyoncé, Trudeau and Culture Predators
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail