Thursday, October 10, 2013

Will Miss #526 - no drug debate

Twenty-five years ago, I told my future husband that I objected to drug use. At that time, he thought I was being judgmental, moralistic, and small-minded because that's why most people have an issue with it. The truth is that my objection has nothing to do with morality. It has to do with what is often referred to as "presence". That is, when I am with people, I want them to be mentally "with" me 100%. I don't want them to be under the influence of any mind- or consciousness-altering substances. I want them to be fully themselves. If they can't manage that when I'm with them, then I don't want to be around them. 

In Japan, drug use is far less common than it is in the U.S. because the culture is much more reactive about it. While I don't believe the reefer-madness-like response to "soft" drugs, I generally think that a society is better off without so much drug use. The reasons for this stem beyond my desire not to be with people who are only half with me, but also relate to the fact that drug use tends to bring a whole host of other problems along with it. I also strongly believe that, if we turn to substances, we never truly manage to manage our inner lives because we run from our issues rather than face them.

Frankly, I'm tired of the debate with people in the U.S. who snarl like rabid dogs at the idea that drug use is anything but a great thing as long as we're talking about whatever drug(s) they happen to favor or use. I miss the fact that Japanese people in general didn't use drugs and saw their use as a far from positive thing.* There were certain arguments I never had there, and this was one of them.

*It is not lost on me that Japanese use alcohol in the way many people use drugs. The main difference is that I knew exactly how to avoid it, and most people experience drunkenness as a continuum - drug use tends to have more binary results - high or not high.


  1. With 30+ years of professional experience I can attest to the validity of your arguments about the damage drug abuse causes....physical, social, psychological, and interpersonal.

    I am glad you added the footnote about alcohol intake/abuse in Japan. It is quite significant, although significantly tolerated by the society. While I agree that there is a continuum of use/abuse of this particular drug, it is still quite destructive in its effects. Only much more 'socially acceptable.'

    1. The main difference in Japan is that alcoholism isn't even considered a disease. From a cultural viewpoint, it essentially does not exist as a pathological condition because it is an outlet for the emotions and thoughts that must be repressed as part of the culture's overall message.

      I see alcohol consumption in Japan as destructive, but actually more "necessary" than in the U.S. We don't have a culture which tells people to repress and keep quiet, and, in my experience, most people do neither. Arguably, alcohol plays a significant role in Japan in "medicating" a population that is constantly advised to put up and shut up. When you live in a culture that tells you to demand and speak out freely (like America), you can't really argue that you need booze to give you a much-needed outlet.

      This is an argument, mind you, and not one I'm necessarily making or endorsing, but raising as a potentially valid point that could be made about the role of booze in Japan vs. that in America.

      Thanks for your comment. It spurred me to think about this in a way I may not have.

    2. I am pleased if my comment stimulated you to think more about alcoholism and/or drug abuse. You made some points which I want to respond to/elaborate on.

      I agree that alcoholism is not considered to be a disease in Japan. It may surprise you to know that this is still true in large segments of society here in the USA. This is in spite of many years now of public service announcements, celebrities coming out about their own problems with alcohol, and/or portrayals in film and TV about it. Many, if not most, Americans are still ignorant of this. And/or because of shame about drinking problems they are in denial about it.

      I agree that our cultural norms allow for, even encourage, more open communication than is the case in Japan. However, many people here cannot/do not live up to that ideal.

      Almost any recovering alcoholic you ask will tell you that they drank because they could not express themselves and/or deal effectively with difficult issues in their lives. There are a myriad of these but they include such things as learning problems as a child or teen, familial discord in their families growing up including domestic violence or parental drug/alcohol abuse, depression, and/or anxiety. In other words, most all alcoholics here in the USA use/used their drinking to reduce the distress that these problems caused them.

      Tragically, the fact is that alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. By this I mean that it may initially start off providing relief to an individual who is depressed, etc. In the longer run, however, continued drinking actually intensifies their depression as well as causes them other problems with their family, work, and/or society. Some of this is because they develop a tolerance for alcohol. This means they need more and more in order to get any effect from it. Gradually, eventually they lose control over their intake. This change in brain/body chemistry and loss of control over one's drinking is a large part of the 'disease' process.

      One final point to consider: research has found that a large percentage, maybe one quarter, of Asians lack one of the liver enzymes needed to metabolize alcohol effectively. These are the individuals one sees in Japan who get very red faced, and usually very drunk, even after consuming what seem to be "small" amounts of alcohol. Less than a glass of beer or one shot of whiskey can trigger this reaction in them. In other words, they have an inborn intolerance for/allergy to alcohol.

    3. Ironically, I just completed a graduate school class in substance abuse which had a heavy emphasis on alcoholism *and* required that I attend two 12-step program meetings. Both of the ones I attended dealt with alcohol abusers, so I'm pretty aware of what you're speaking of. Also, my father is an alcoholic so I grew up right in the belly of that particular beast. Trust me when I say that I know this issue from the inside out.

      I also was aware that alcohol suppresses the central nervous system. Part of what I studied for my own edification was the exact chemical structure and precise effects of alcohol. It is, essentially, ether plus water. What it does to the body is horrendous and dangerous.

      Trust me when I say you're preaching to the choir here. I grew up in the awfulness of alcoholism and I've studied it in detail. I did say that one could make the argument I made, but not that I was actually making it.

  2. Thanks for sharing your own life experience and for clarifying your own views on these issues. I am heartened that you have learned much from both personal experience and then gone on to teach yourself other important things about 'the awfulness of alcoholism.' The impact it has on the individual and those around him/her can be both devastating and tragic.

  3. I have spent a great deal of time in Japan and studying Japanese, and I relate to many aspects of your blog. That's the only reason why I'd bother to reply. This is not an attack, but your opinions on this issue are rather grating and here's why:

    -Drug use is not binary, "high" or "not high", as you suggested. This is a false contrast to alcohol with no basis in science or lived experience. Compare one hit of a joint to eating a strong brownie. Compare one vicodin to a full injected dose of heroin.

    -No one is ever fully 100% "present" with anyone, sober or not. To say that you require this of people strikes me as entitled and naive. And how do you account for people on powerful psychiatric meds? Prescribed painkillers? Over the counter cough syrup? Coffee? Someone completely sober may be with you but thinking about something else entirely while cleverly representing otherwise. This is human nature.

    -Many people use natural substances such as marijuana or psilocybin mushrooms to cultivate their "inner lives" that you mention (Carl Sagan was one: .Humans have had such relations with consciousness altering plants and fungi going back thousands of years. The War on "Drugs" and it's accompanying propaganda campaign are a recent phenomenon.

    -People addicted to hard drugs need treatment, not prison. Drug abuse is a social health problem, not a criminal justice problem. Not even getting into how people of color and the poor in general are disproportionality victimized by this insane political economic apparatus. Not even getting into how the pharmaceutical industry fudges data and entices/misleads doctors into overprescribing narcotic painkillers and numbing psychiatric medications, turning otherwise normal people into zombies and addicts. You just glossed over all of this.

    -Japan's drug laws and criminal justice system in general are even more draconian than our own, and the people, as a matter of the rigidity of the culture, are even more blinded by the propaganda than we are. This is why they generally do not use drugs and as you say, see it in a much more negative light. Keep in mind that they also commonly believe that western OTC medication is stronger than the equivalent Japanese medication, despite demonstration that the active ingredients are the same and at the same concentrations. They also commonly believe that Japan is the only country in the world with four unique seasons...


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