Saturday, May 27, 2006

Hollywood Taught Us About Drug Addiction

Many of you, most of you I hope, learned about drug addiction the same way I did. That's right. Not by being an addict, but going to the movies. Everything I know about drug addiction I learned from Hollywood.

I saw honest, smart, hardworking men and women, in a moment of weakness, take their first snort, hit, drag, injection, because a "friend" told them, "Try some of this, you'll feel real good." We all wanted to scream, shout at the movie screen, "No, don't do it!" We all knew that the road was all downhill from there, because Hollywood has shown us so many times how poor innocents are hooked, can't resist, and drugs lead them into a wasteland of addiction, despair, depravity, and crime. They have no choice. It's the physical dependence, the horrible withdrawal, they are truly hooked, there's no way out.

Except, that's not true. What we saw was Hollywood dramatizing drug addiction to sell movie tickets. It's really the simple tale of bright hopes tragically perverted by insatiable craving for drugs, or the miraculous recovery from addiction because of devoted friends and loved ones. Tragic loss, miraculous redemption, the stuff of Hollywood dreams. Unfortunately, not the stuff of real life. For that you have to go to an excellent Fraters Libertas post, Suck It Up Degenerates. There you will find that most addicts were criminals before becoming addicts, and that the quality of withdrawal displayed depends more on the audience than the drug.

This post reminds me of my Freshman year of college, at Humboldt State, Arcata (near Eureka) in northern California. The year was 1960, and one of my first assignments in Honors English (I amazed myself when I was picked for Honors English, a two semester course combining Freshman English and Speech with both an English and a Speech professor) was a paper and speech on a subject of my choosing. I chose "decriminalization, not legalization, of drugs." My points were that criminalization of drug use drove the addicts underground and away from help from the medical and mental health care providers; criminalization made drugs far more expensive and drove addicts to crime to feed their addiction; and that the enormous profits made by organized crime from the drug trade resulted in corruption of police and the judiciary. Here, 46 years later, the only things that changed are that the profit and corruption are much worse than what we felt was rampant criminality back then.

As I said, not much has changed except one thing. Because of Hollywood, I felt then that drug addiction started as curiosity, an adventure, and then went sour and led to crime. Now I realize that most addicts start out in crime, and take drugs because of a "strong adversarial stance to the world caused by the emotional, spiritual, cultural and intellectual vacuity of their lives." In other words they're losers already, not victims. This realization wouldn't have changed my thoughts back then about decriminalization of drugs. I still think it's a good idea, but now mostly from the stand point of drying up this criminal cash cow.

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