by John Lawrence from the San Diego Free Press
Americans are using drugs of various kinds at an increasing rate. Of course drugs have been around for a long time, since the beginning of time in fact. In 5000 BC the Sumerians used opium. The earliest record of alcohol production was in Egypt in 3500 BC. Tea in China was used in 3000 BC. Humans have used various substances to manipulate and alter their mood levels for millenia.
In the category of drugs I include any mood altering substance such caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, cocaine, heroin, marijuana, prescription drugs such as opiods and other pain killers, amphetamines etc. According to Wikipedia, a drug is any substance other than food that, when inhaled, injected, smoked, consumed, absorbed via a patch on the skin or dissolved under the tongue, causes a physiological change in the body. Addiction occurs when a person feels the need to continue using the drug on a regular basis and can't quit. This doesn't allow the body to recuperate whereas moderate use of any drug can produce more sustainable results because the body does get a chance to recuperate.
Food, sex, and exercise addiction are not considered to be included in drug addiction although they work in a similar way to release chemicals in the brain that then flood the body and produce pleasurable sensations. Food addiction can have the most undesirable consequences including obesity. Addiction to work, workaholism, on the other hand, can have very desirable consequences including increased financial well being although it may wreak a toll on human relationships. Sex addiction can have the negative consequences of promiscuity, adultery, excessive masturbation and porn addiction. Exercise addiction such as runner's high is considered to be positive addiction since the major effects are increased good health. But even with exercise, the addiction can be taken too far producing enervation and fatigue.
Obviously, some drugs are considered basically harmless at least in terms of their negative social consequences. People drink coffee regularly throughout their whole lives without negative consequences. People smoke cigarettes over their whole lives without negative consequences except that their lives are probably shortened by lung cancer, emphysema and other diseases. This makes for not a pretty end of life picture. Alcohol use if excessive can lead to drunken driving, lowered inhibitions of anger leading to violence and eventual health consequences such as cirrhosis of the liver. Moderate alcohol use seems to have beneficial effects.
Addiction to powerful drugs can lead to job loss, criminality such as robbery and theft to support the drug habit and other social malaise. Not all drugs are bad, not all addiction is bad. Moderation or the lack thereof is the key to determining if drug use is bad. Some people function extremely well with moderate use of drugs including even so-called "hard" drugs. Caffeine perks up the mind and can be beneficial for long distance truck drivers or students studying for final exams. One of the keys to understanding drug use is understanding whether the drug use is a consequence of the user's social situation such as poverty and hopelessness or mental health issues or is it a part of an otherwise productive and functional life?
Positive Addiction Can Be a Good Thing, But...
Exercise addiction led to participation in three Olympics by middle distance runner Suzy Favor Hamilton. In her autobiography, Fast Girl, she details how she started running as a child and noted the pleasurable sensations running produced after she stopped. To boot she found that she was also good at it. So she got into competitive athletics as a runner. This had both good and bad consequences. The good was that in addition to the "runner's high" running produced, she got acclaim and fame when she won races. Her Olympic career ended at her third Olympics when the expectation that she would win produced so much pressure that she performed poorly and would have ended in last place if she had not deliberately fallen in order to avoid that shame.
After her running career ended, the adjustment to life without running produced another crisis: what to do with all the energy she had expended while running? As it turned out, that energy went into sex including excessive masturbation and eventually a career as a prostitute in Las Vegas where she became the second highest paid escort in town earning more than $600 for an hour's work which was also extremely pleasurable for her. Amazingly, her husband stood by her throughout her career as a high class call girl. She would fly to Vegas from Wisconsin a couple times a month, enjoy her avocation and come home with big bucks. Eventually she was "outed" by a client and her career as a call girl was over.
Suzy sought medical help for her addiction and was prescribed psychotropic drugs. It's interesting that what had originally been a positive addiction became something that eventually had to be treated with an ingested chemical drug. The book ended with the drug treatment having finally quieted her mind and stabilized her situation. What's happened to Suzy since then we don't know. According to the book, she's teaching yoga, doing public speaking, seeing her psychiatrist who diagnosed her with bipolar disorder and running, but not competitively.
Michael Phelps was also diagnosed with ADHD as a child. He couldn't concentrate in class and was given Ritalin for several years. His mother was told he would never amount to anything. Then he found swimming. Now he is the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time. Is it that some people were never cut out to sit still in class? That doesn't mean, however, that they can't excel in other endeavors. The problem now for Michael, as it was for Suzy, is what does he do with his energy once his Olympic career is over. My prescription would be to go on swimming, but not competitively.
The 1940s and 50s singer and movie star, Betty Hutton, tells in her book, Backstage, You Can Have, how she was effectively addicted to performing. She was known for the prodigious amount of energy she expended when on stage. She was unable to retire and just be a mother and housewife. She eventually became addicted to pills including amphetamines which enabled her to keep going and do her explosive act. After having made 19 films and $10 million in the Hollywood film industry, probably the equivalent of $100 million today, she eventually became homeless not even being able to afford a weekly motel bill. Homelessness can happen to anyone even Hollywood movie stars. She was befriended by a Catholic priest, Father Maguire, for 12 years until he died. She lived out her years in Palm Springs with the help of two gay guys who looked after her and fought with her over her pill addiction. She is buried in Desert Memorial Cemetery in Cathedral City next door to Palm Springs where many other movie stars and celebrities including Frank Sinatra and Sonny Bono are buried.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) always seemed to me to be a misnomer. Some people have high energy and can just not sit still in a classroom or at a desk job. Human beings, especially males, evolved to be physically active and shouldn't be sitting all day; many should be involved in some physical activity instead. Naturally, if a person can't sit still, they have an attention deficit because they can't pay attention until they can can release their pent up energy and relax. Then they can pay attention, but our society values people who can sit at a desk all day whether in school or at a job. Those people usually end up with health problems due to their sedentariness. People who do manual labor and whose jobs involve physical movement usually live longer and have fewer health problems, but our society does not value their work as much. There is even a stigma associated with lack of a college education and associated desk job. It's the blue collar vs white collar syndrome.
Students like Michael Phelps who are diagnosed with ADHD are sometimes given a drug like Ritalin to calm them down. Again a drug is administered when a more healthy prescription might be exercise. Overloading the body with drugs to solve every problem is what is making the pharmaceutical companies rich while leading everyone to believe that the solution to every problem is a drug. Luckily, Michael Phelps figured this one out for himself and became a swimmer instead of a drug user.
Some Are Hunters; Some Are Farmers
Thom Hartmann proposed the hunter vs. farmer theory to explain ADHD and AADD (Adult Attention Deficit Disorder). He theorized that human beings evolved to be hunter-gatherers and as such ADHD was a useful strategy. Then later when societies became agricultural, farming involved more sedentary activity. His thesis involves the consideration of farmers vs hunters as an explanation why some people can tolerate sedentariness better than others, but he always assumes that ADHD is a natural phenomenon that shouldn't be looked at as something deviate which should be treated with drugs. Thom has a point, but anyone who has ever been around farmers knows that a farmer's life is anything but sedentary.
Why is it that ADHD and AADD have only recently become a problem? This is the question Hartmann, former psychotherapist, asked. He then drew a logical conclusion, that ADD and ADHD are a result of natural adaptive behavior:
Like some other alternative ADHD theories, this originated from a child getting the ADHD diagnosis and the parent thinking, “My child does not have a disorder.” Thom Hartmann’s son was diagnosed and that got him to look at the ADHD controversy seriously. His conclusion was, “It's not hard science, and was never intended to be.” ADHD is only a list of symptoms, with no criteria directly connected to any cause or disorder.
According to this theory, humans were nomadic hunter-gatherers for thousands of years, but as people started farming and living settled lives other personality traits, more suitable to a sedentary life, developed. The ADHD person is then someone who has retained some of the older hunter-gatherer characteristics. So-called “normal” people are the “farmers.”
This theory has been validated by a number of studies of people living traditional tribal and nomadic lifestyles. Those tribes’ people who continued their traditional lifestyles had no problems with their ADD and ADHD, but members of the same tribe living in towns had ADHD problems like those in western society.
The people that are covered by this theory have an ADD or ADHD personality. They do not have a disorder, but need to find their niche in our modern western society. A part of this adaptation is finding a career that suits their personalities and not, as is so often the case, fit themselves into a career considered a “good career” for the average individual.
The hunter has to be aware of signs of their prey, dangers, and make quick decisions. This is a stimulating experience, where impulsivity and hyperactivity, two symptoms of ADHD, are beneficial. For such a child, sitting in a classroom and forced to do some boring or repetitive work, will heighten every distraction from the classroom and even from outside. This is the reason for their distractibility.
The errors many leading ADHD researchers make is to assume that only one way of thinking or learning is “normal” and a child thinking or learning another way is a “disorder.” There are many learning styles, which are personality traits. These academics have arbitrarily defined “normal” behavior as behavior most suitable in the conventional classroom.
The average school classroom environment is not a natural environment for a young child. Children are not designed to sit still for hours doing tasks that may be perceived as boring. This is not normal, and the reactions of ADD and ADHD children through various hyperactive or daydreaming behaviors are their coping strategies.
Many Olympic athletes struggle with everyday life after their Olympic careers are over. A recent article in the Washington Post, Olympians struggle to adjust to life beyond the rings, says the following:
Each of the 11,000 athletes who competed at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics over the past two weeks endured some measure of meticulous preparation, all building to a single competition when the world’s focus is most intense. Just beyond their medals and the post-Olympic exhibition tours and commemorative cereal boxes looms a hurdle they don’t see coming: everyday life.
There is now, though, a heightened awareness about what awaits Olympians when they return home. Many athletes here said they have discussed potential pitfalls with teammates. Swimmer Allison Schmitt won three gold medals, a silver and a bronze at the 2012 London Olympics, but she fell into such a deep depression over the ensuing two years that she and her coaches believed it was unlikely she would compete at such a level again.
With help, Schmitt overcame her problems. She came to Rio with the goal of not only helping the Americans to a medal — which she did, gold in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay — but to, as she said, “de-stigmatize the negativity around mental health.” Schmitt said before she left Rio that she plans to travel, that she knows she must keep busy. But she also knows that understanding her past experiences doesn’t mean she is better prepared to deal with what’s to come.
“I’m more aware of it,” she said. “I don’t know exactly how much more prepared I am for it. I would like to say I am.”
Stay tuned for Part 2 in next week's San Diego Free Press.