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 How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Did the Elites Have Martin Luther King Jr. Killed?
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Clobbers Ocean Life
Patrick Cockburn
The Terrifying Parallels Between Trump and Erdogan
Kenneth Surin
The Neoliberal Stranglehold on the American Public University
Lawrence Davidson
Is There a Future for the Democratic Party?
Douglas Valentine
Who Killed MLK Jr?
Robert Fisk
The Foreign Correspondent in the Age of Twitter and Trump
Dale Bryan
“Where Do We Go from Here?”
David Swanson
The Deep State Wants to Deep Six Us
Dan Bacher
Obama Administration Orders Speedy Completion of Delta Tunnels Plan
Mark Weisbrot
Obama Should Make Sure that Haitian Victims of UN-Caused Cholera are Compensated
Winslow Myers
The Light of the World
Bruce Mastron
My Latest Reason to Boycott the NFL: Guns
Weekend Edition
January 13, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Gregory Elich
Did the Russians Really Hack the DNC?
Jeffrey St. Clair
The President Who Wasn’t There: Barack Obama’s Legacy of Impotence
Anthony DiMaggio
Ethics Fiasco: Trump, Divestment and the Perversion of Executive Politics
Joshua Frank
Farewell Obummer, Hello Golden Showers
Paul Street
Hit the Road, Barack: Some Farewell Reflections
Vijay Prashad
After Aleppo: the State of Syria
John Wight
Russia Must be Destroyed: John McCain and the Case of the Dodgy Dossier
Rob Urie
Meet the Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
The Russian Dossier Reminds Me of the Row Over Saddam’s WMDs
Eric Sommer
U.S.-China War: a Danger Hidden from the American People
Andrew Levine
Are Democrats Still the Lesser Evil?
Linda Pentz Gunter
What’s Really Behind the Indian Point Nuclear Deal?
Robert Fantina
Trucks, ‘Terror’ and Israel
Richard Moser
Universal Values are Revolutionary Values
Russell Mokhiber
Build the Bagdikian Wall: “Sponsored News” at the Washington Post
Yoav Litvin
Establishment Narcissism – The Democrats’ Game of Thrones
David Rosen
Return of the Repressed: Trump & the Revival of the Culture Wars
Robert Koehler
War Consciousness and the F-35
Rev. William Alberts
The New Smell of McCarthyism Demands Faith Leaders Speak Truth to Power
John Laforge
Federal Regulator Halts Move to Toughen Radiation Exposure Limits
Norman Pollack
Farewell Address: Nazification of Hope
David Swanson
Imagine the Confirmation Hearing for Secretary of Peace
CJ Hopkins
Why Ridiculous Official Propaganda Still Works
Ron Jacobs
Striking in Reagan Time
Missy Comley Beattie
The Streep
Graham Peebles
Climate Change: The Potential Impacts of Collective Inaction
Uri Avnery
Confessions of a Megalomaniac
Kenneth Worles
Black Without a Home: King’s Dream Still Deferred
Geoff Dutton
The Russian Patsy
Jill Richardson
The Coming War on Regulations
Jeremy Brecher
Resisting the Trump Agenda is Social Self-Defense
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail