Drugs: Abuse, Misuse & Addiction by a Protégé Artist
“My heart is broke but I have some glue. Help me inhale and mend it with you.”
– ‘Dumb’ by Nirvana
DISCLAIMER: I want to let you know that this will be a longer piece. There is a surprising amount of information, most of it repetition, on the topic of Drugs: history, origins, legalisation, effects, use, self-help, police, politics, praise, spirituality, art, literature, music, smuggling, trafficking. I’m going to try my best to wade through it all and come out the other side with something of interest and relevance. Even if you’ve never used a drug, coffee & tea included, you will know someone who has, and maybe that person isn’t aware of the impact it is having on their day-to-day life. I’ve tried to break things down into simple sections and if we’re lucky it may provide help in explaining their behaviour.
At the end of this piece will be a series of links to places that will be of help to someone who is having difficulty coping with drugs.
(1) The popular thought
Drugs are BAD. You mess with drugs and they mess with your life, you use drugs, they end up using you. The line to addiction is seldom seen by the eyes of the user, you’ll be more likely to commit crime in order to feed your downward spiralling habit. You’re breaking the law.
(2) The 'other' thought
Drug use has helped evolve the human race. From early Shamans & Witch doctors, to modern day ‘medicine-men’, musicians, artists and performers alike. From our modern day sports heroes to philosophers, laureate scientists and writers – Drugs (and their users) have been there to help shape the world we’re ALL living in… and you’re bending the law.
No matter which option you choose to side with, there is an inescapable truth. Drugs have been used since the beginning of civilisation (the earliest were most probably an opiate of some sort), and they will continue to be used long after me and you (yes you…) leave this planet. No matter how legalised or criminalised drugs become, humanity will find a way to alter their conscious waking state, or in other words – get high.
In fact, research has suggested that we, as human beings, may have an evolutionary pre-disposition to seek out narcotics (source: New Scientist – www.newscientist.com). Maybe you can eliminate ALL drugs, but you can’t eliminate addictive personalities.
So… This would be the place I would throw some bullet point style facts at you, but you’ve probably heard it all before. There are a lot of contradicting opinions, paths of research and theories, so no matter what you choose to believe, suspend it. It has no use here, because this topic is actually about abuse, misuse and addiction. And the way I want to talk about it won’t need to address those facts and/or fallacies.
A brief synopsis of drugs (and category confusion)
What is a drug? Well… A drug is any substance, solid, liquid or gas that brings about physical and/or psychological changes in the body. Drugs can be divided into various categories: class, strength, method of intake, chemical consistency, dependency, natural, manufactured etc. etc.. In regards to discussing use and abuse, it will be practical to split them between stimulants, depressants and hallucinogens.
Caffeine / Ephedrine / Nicotine / Amphetamines (speed, crystal meth, ice) / Cocaine (coke, crack) / Ecstasy (E) / slimming tablets such as Duromine, Tenuate Dospan and Ponderax
- Stimulants act on the central nervous system to speed up the messages going to and from the brain. They make you feel more awake, confident, alert. They increase heart rate, body temperature and blood pressure.
Alcohol / Barbiturates including Seconal, Tuinal and Amytal / Benzodiazepines (benzos, tranx) like Rohypnol, Valium, Serepax, Mogadon, Normison and Eupoynos / Cannabis (pot, dope, weed, grass) / opiates and opioids like Heroin (H, smack) and Morphine, Coedine, Methadone / other solvents and inhalants or glue like Poppers
- Depressant drugs do the opposite – They slow down the functions of the central nervous system. They cause a person to drop inhibitions, to relax. They a ffect concentration and coordination and reaction times (both mental processes and physical reactions) are slowed.
Datura / Ketamine (K, special K) / LSD (microdots, acid) / Psilocybin Mushrooms (magic mushrooms, mushies) / Mescaline / PCP (angel dust)
- Hallucinogenic drugs affect perception, hence the use of the reference – Trippin’. The effect is unpredictable because it is entirely dependant on the user. One may experience altered states of consciousness. Usually there is a dilation of the pupils, increased activity, talking, laughing. There can be a sense of emotional and psychological euphoria and wellbeing, paranoia and a loss of contact with reality.
(Source: Australian Drug Foundation – http://druginfo.adf.org.au)
There is crossover between the categories. Both Cannabis and Ecstasy can have hallucinogenic properties. Though some of these affects can leave you feeling positive or enlightened, if you’re not familiar with what you’re taking, then the affects can become quite negative – anything from extreme anxiety/panic, to heart palpitations, to vomiting, to passing out and/or overdosing (OD’ing).
Using and Abusing (Medicinal, Recreational, Utilitarian & Abuse)
It is estimated that over 11 and quarter million people aged 16-59, in England and Wales, have used illicit drugs in their lifetime (Source: BCS British Crime Survey 2006/07).
That’s just in England and Wales.
…That’s a lot of people!
But, what does it mean to ‘have used illicit drugs…’? Good Question.
Drugs, both natural and man-made, are used as remedies, and pain killers. They serve a purpose and can improve the quality of life in those that require it. When prescribed by a doctor (witch or other…) we could classify this as Medicinal use – You are using the drug for their curative, preventative or therapeutic qualities.
When using a drug for its effects and not for its medicinal benefits, we can classify this as recreational use – If you take it occasionally rather than regularly, it’s called casual use. It implies that the user is not dependant or addicted, but it doesn’t give us any clues as to why they’re using.
Utilitarian use is when you use the drug for a specific benefit, other than medicinal or pleasure, for example; relief of fatigue or insomnia or to control appetite. It is a thin line between utilitarian drug use and drug abuse, and which side you land on is completely dependant on circumstance and context.
Drug abuse is hard to define because of the variety of situations one might find themselves in. Over-using a drug causes abuse to your body and mental stability, yet if you break your leg, its not uncommon to be pumped full of morphine to take away the pain. Circumstance and context. Therefore, the generally accepted view is – any use of substances that have no relevant recognised medical purpose can be regarded as abuse.
(Source: Economic and Social Research Council – www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk 2012)
[ESRC now found at: https://esrc.ukri.org/]
The trend we are led to believe is that we move from ‘recreational’ to ‘abuse’ if we are left unchecked, and in truth there are many, many, many cases to support this, but there are also many, many, many exceptions to that rule. There are recovering addicts that have come back from the pits of abuse. If your world is starting to look dark and smell bad, maybe its time to think about what it is your doing to yourself?
Take me to your dealer (playground munchies)
Why take drugs? It is the biggest question with an infinite variety of answers, yet we’re not pleased with any of them. So let’s assume that we’re all taking drugs. That it’s the norm. You find you come to a question that is only just starting to be answered… WHERE do we get that first drug experience from?
First, you may like to know that:
- Most primary school children are able to name at least four illegal drugs.
(Source: Politics.co.uk – www.politics.co.uk)
- Misuse of over-the-counter pills now kills more Americans than illegal drugs.
(Source: Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008)
- Despite hundreds of millions of pounds spent each year on UK drug enforcement activity, there is remarkably little evidence of its effectiveness in disrupting markets and reducing availability.
(Source: UK Drug Policy Commission – www.ukdpc.org.uk)
- Over the last decade, use of illegal drugs in the UK has fallen to an 11-year low. Drug related crime has dropped by a fifth over the last five years.
(Source: Home Office – http://drugs.homeoffice.gov.uk 2012)
- Looking at the harm caused by various narcotic substances, it was found that alcohol was the fifth most dangerous drug available – following heroin, cocaine, barbiturates and methadone yet is not included in the ABC system.
(Source: Politics.co.uk – www.politics.co.uk)
- The Department of Health estimates that 47% of 15-year-olds have drunk alcohol in the last week, and 22% have used an illegal drug.
(Source: Barnardo’s – www.barnardos.org.uk)
2 of the top 10 worst drugs are legal – alcohol and cigarettes. Young people are exposed to the tolerance of those drugs from very early on. They are available to anyone who is ‘lucky enough to look under 21, but able to prove they are over 18’. Has your big brother, sister, older looking friend ever got you a beer? A glass of red wine a day is good for you? Vodka is cheaper than water in Russia?
Look at the 2nd bullet point above. I also remember being in school and being told to ‘sniff the glue’. A light headed sensation, maybe a slight feeling of nausea. I remember walking down Camden High Street, being passed a bottle of poppers and being told to sniff. It felt like a series of small pulsating fireworks going off in my head. Another light headed feeling, maybe a little giggle to follow. Harmless fun for a pound? Hey, I’m just inhaling. Hey… I’m just breathing!
Cannabis, Magic Mushrooms, Mescaline. Varieties of these grow naturally in the wild. Depending on where you are in the world, and provided you know what you’re looking for, you have access to some of the most powerful natural hallucinogens.
However, more often than not, the first drug experience comes from within our own social circles, through our friends, and friends of our friends. A very small percentage of young people obtain drugs from strangers. From here, it is all circumstance and context; amount used, frequency of use, if they push onto harder drugs, or push into yoga. If they have more free time, or disposable income are they more likely to drink or do coke? What about social factors? If you’re club and party orientated, you might find yourself exposed to E’s and coke, over mushrooms and smack. If you’re living outside social convention you might find it easier to get Ketamine. You could be a victim of a Rohypnol attack in college or university, or you could get pushed into PCP if you find yourself street bound. Maybe you’re a fledging sports ‘wunderkind’ and end up coming into contact with steroids. The variety never ends. Most likely you’ve come across ‘weed’ from the age of 13, and some of you swear you’ll never do anything more. I’ve seen far too many people promise themselves the same thing when they were young. Now they’re affectionately known as coke-heads. They sell weed, they snort coke. They are fucked up. But then again, some don’t. Some people have the ability to live with drugs in their lives. It’s against the law, but they’re probably lawyers themselves. Do you see what I’m getting at?
Addiction (one more fix)
It is hard seeing someone you care about come apart at the seams. For them, it’s a case of watching the void between them and everyone else increase. For you, it’s losing recognition of someone you thought you knew and still care for. It doesn’t have to be alcohol or an illicit drug that you’re addicted to. Addiction could be to medication, cigarettes, even glue.
Addiction means a person has no control over whether he or she uses a drug, drink, substance, food. It is the next step after abuse. You might smoke a joint now and then, but you may not be addicted, yet you are abusing the drug. Addiction comes with when there is a dependency or a need; an addiction that can be physical or psychological.
Physical dependency is when the body becomes dependant on the substance. They begin to build a tolerance to the drug which means that they will require a larger dose to achieve the same effects as before. The other characteristic of physical dependency is withdrawal symptoms. If the body is accustomed to receiving a regular dosage of a substance, once that stops, the body reacts physically. Symptoms are much like the flu – diarrhoea, shaking, feeling awful.
A psychological dependency happens when the cravings are emotional. There is a desire to have the drug. One might lie or steal to get it.
An addicted person no longer has a choice in taking the substance. If the addiction has gone on for long enough, then chances are the user is addicted physically as well as psychologically. There are so many signs to look for, but these signs cross over with other problems such as violence, bullying, eating disorders, low self-esteem, self-harm, puberty, hormones.
If you, or someone you know, are addicted to drugs or alcohol, recognising that there is a problem is the first step in getting help. A lot of people believe that they can kick the habit by themselves when the reality is that it doesn’t work that way for most people. Start with someone you trust. A friend is always a good place to start, but a supportive and understanding adult is usually the best option for getting help. This doesn’t have to be your parents, a teacher, or a doctor. It could be a confidential service like ‘FRANK’. FRANK is a friendly, confidential drugs advice helpline, and it is one of many ways to help pull free from abuse and addiction.
Final Note (I’m out of paper)
If you recreationally use, you’re walking the very fine line of abuse, misuse & addiction. It doesn’t take much, just a certain situation, circumstance or context. With some drugs it is a case of tolerance. One, accidental, stronger dose can be enough to start the downward spiral.
Even if you have an iron will and can control yourself to hold back from addiction, you may still abuse. Polydrug use, which is fancy way of saying using more than one drug at a time, is fairly common among recreational users. A combination of drinks, a spliff, a line or two of charlie (if offered), but then where does it stop? At some point you lose a sense of the rational, and it becomes all about the sensation, the feeling, and pushing that feeling as far as it can go can become the focus.
Maybe we as humans do have an evolutionary predisposition to seek out narcotics, to search for new highs wherever they may be, but we as evolved human beings also have a brain – one which should show us when too much is too much. We have a body that is not designed for the constant intake of man-made chemicals. You can argue one side or the other until the end of time. Drugs – Good / Bad? Well, they exist, and we use them. We always have and we always will, and if you need help it is out there.
You have to want it first.
Helpful links and further reading
For help with addiction:
- www.talktofrank.com – FRANK – 0800 77 66 00
- www.actiononaddiction.org.uk – Action on Addiction
- www.barnados.org.uk – Barnado’s
- www.samaritans.org – Samaritans
- www.release.org.uk – Release – Drugs, the law & Human rights
For further reading:
- www.thesite.org – TheSite
- www.drugscope.org.uk – Drugscope
- www.mind.org.uk – Mind
- www.dh.gov.uk – Department of Health
- www.childline.org.uk – Childline
also, there may be organisations in your local area who offer free confidential services.
In Hounslow there is
- www.hycs.org – Hounslow Youth Counselling Service
Sources used (other than those mentioned):
Issues – Independence Publishing – www.independence.co.uk
- Vol 2 – Drug Misue
- Vol 62 – Drugs & The Law
- Vol 114 – Drug Misuse
- Vol 162 – Drugs in the UK