To start off the discussion about drug abuse in creative professions, I want to talk about some basics. What is it, that makes drugs so appealing to people and what does addiction mean, to our body and society?
Most drugs trigger a feeling of intense pleasure, which we can all agree on to be desirable. Some drugs such as Cocaine are accompanied by stimulating effects, while opiates such as Heroine are calming and relaxing. So we have a few reasons here already: People take drugs to feel good, or to feel better. Drugs offer an immediate relief of anxiety, some make you feel more confident, give you more energy or relieve distress – but only as long as the drug is in the system, of course.
Another reason for consumption is the desire to extend the abilities of the body. Some drugs enhance sensitivity, prolong attention spans, send signals to the body that it is not tired, weak, anxious or anything else that could get in the way of succeeding. The last reason I must mention is curiosity; Any person who is only a little bit curious has probably wondered at some point how it must feel to be on LSD or another drug. For some the curiosity ends here, for others it is where it begins. How is this curiosity fed? By the community, the media, pop culture.
All these effects are no magic. With drugs, we add chemicals to the working systemof our body to get the pleasure usually only used motivate us to survive (eating,procreation). Drugs increase the amount of the naturally occurring neurotransmitter dopamine, which is responsible for the rewarding feelings.
Now all these things sound great so far. Controlling the chemicals in my body to react in my favor instead of having to deal with problems inside my head? I can see how that could be tempting. But if this was all there was to drugs, not only would they be legal, but everyone would take them all the time!
There is a downside, or should I say downfall? The higher you get, the lower you fall. The human body gets used to the extreme amount of dopamine and normal levels simply don’t suffice anymore. What used to be pleasurable, lost its rewarding abilities.While dopamine normally conditions us to stay alive, taking drugs to increase dopamine levels conditions us to, well, take drugs. And this is addiction.
There’s no magic, no dark power, no evil villain called Mr. Addiction picking one and not the other. Addiction is proven to be bio-chemical reactions in the brain. Depending on genetic disposition (about 40% according to studies on heritability in families and twins) and the environment, some people are more likely to become addicted than others.
Also, certain drugs are more addictive than others. All of this is true, but we all have this reward system set up and messing with it by using drugs will eventually get them on the top of that reward list. When it comes to taking drugs regularly, addiction is not a choice, it’s a consequence. The tables turn and soon the drugs consume us. Instead of expanding human abilities, they start inhibiting them, making the body dependent on something that slowly –but surely– destroys it.
Why I’m writing about all this medical, chemical blah blah reminding you of the torturing hours of biology class you hated in high school? I know it took me some time to accept the danger of drug addiction as something that comes with being human, something that is real.
The general assumption of society is a completely different one: Drug addiction is
associated with junkies, homeless people, the outcasts of society, the weak-willed. It is
easier to look at it that way, to believe this does not concern people with jobs, who go to
good schools, drive decent cars and grow up in nice neighborhoods.
The world is speeding up by the second and endless possibilities of comparison raise the bar for all professions. To keep up in that race of modern survival of the fittest we must push ourselves harder to exceed our own abilities now more than ever. The human brain can keep up with the racing development of the world, but the body can’t. With stress levels as high as the expectations, exhaustion is a natural consequence we
simply don't seem to have time for.
Every day, I find myself wishing the day had more hours, dreaming of the time in middle
school where I could get a sufficient amount of sleep and not feel guilty about it. My first semester at Otis, I was so consumed with trying to do my best at school that I forgot to eat regularly and fought sleep creeping up on me like an enemy.
This didn’t happen because I was an art student or a creative person or a workaholic. This simply was what I felt was demanded by the highly competitive world I am living and planning on surviving in independently. Of course, there are consequences to this kind of behavior that the body isn’t made for. But who has time to work out long-term solutions in this kind of world? We want express lanes at Ralph’s, we want drive-through banking, we want fast food, we want instant credit, we want it quick and want it now. We take off the bandaid and say we’ll worry about the infection later. We ignore the writing on the wall for as long as we can. We witnessed the economic crash in 2008 and picked up right where we left it. Why does all this seem to me like a one-way street? I feel like I am a passenger on a train speeding up with no breaks and a broken steering wheel, where everybody on board decided to put on a seat belt rather than changing gears. Drugs can offer something to hold on to in the craze of this speeding train; But they don’t avert the crash, they expedite it. It is a vicious circle and deep down inside we all know it.
Yes, many people use drugs to get through the day –probably far more surrounding me than I know of– but how long will it work this way? I am writing all of this with a heavy heart. The more I researched, the more I realized the extent of this issue. Instead of finding answers, I am now facing even more questions. My first impulse was to turn around and simply look the other way. Having to consciously witness artists I personally know well and think highly of, being carried away by the torrent is such a painful experience. But I am committed to facing this issue and with my thoughts in mind, I hope you do, too.