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A blog by Corstian BoermanCorstian Boerman (self portrait)

About self identification with substance (ab)use

Corstian Boerman
Corstian Boerman
Reading time: 5 minutes

As happens more often; I got engaged in a discussion on Reddit which revolved around drug use, identity, culture and mental health issues. It provoked certain reactions, which became the inspiration for this blog post.

The initial comment which triggered this discussion was one in which I suggested that the combination of habitual marijuana use and personally identifying drug use with ones personality would be a sign something is 'amiss'. The reactions in the discussion which ensued could roughly be categorized in the following three categories;

  1. "There's nothing amiss with weed"
  2. "Everyone identifies themselves with addictions all the time"
  3. "The idea that habitual drug use harmful at all is bullshit"

It's the latter of this one which I instinctively would be quickest to dismiss, but which at the same time is the one which would warrant a more thorough reaction. In this post I'm providing more background to these three points.

Index

  1. My standpoint herein
  2. Pathways to addiction
    2.1 About memory holes
  3. Drug use and mental health
  4. Closing remarks

1. My standpoint herein

It's not that I'm against responsible (or even recreational) drug use. Occasionally I consume different drugs too, for a variety of reasons. It's rather that the personal identification which sometimes may come with drug use cannot possibly be healthy. In that regard I specifically mentioned the 420 subculture, which revolves around marijuana use.

The more personally someone identifies with a certain thing, idea or culture, the more difficult it will be to let go, as is basically the whole essence of personal attachment. It becomes part of ones identity, and letting go will shred ones sense of self apart. And this is especially what makes it difficult to let go of it when letting go has the utmost importance. It's this combination, a substance which alters ones perception, and personal attachment which may too easily result in something more commonly and more broadly regarded as 'addiction'.

Again, not all addiction is created equally, and one may swap marijuana use around with the abuse of coffee, alcohol, sex, gambling, social media or any other generally addictive substitute.

Though I'm all in for legalization, and social acceptance of drug use, I'm sceptical about the effectiveness of the 420 culture in achieving this social acceptance in a responsible manner. Social acceptance on it's own - without further judgement - will most likely lead to a detrimental effect whereas drug use is increasing without acknowledging the downsides of drug use, and thus will lead to abuse. Instead I'd be for a more subtle form of social acceptance whereas drug use is accepted, with the footnote that habitual use can be recognized as a symptom of underlying troubles. This instead of what is mostly happening now, with drug use being regarded as a problem on its own, which should be avoided at all costs.

2. Pathways to addiction

The thing with marijuana specifically is that it can be beneficial, when consistently dosed correctly. However, when using it over longer periods of time one will most likely become subjected to psychological dependency, which is nothing more than its use having become a habit, and its effects having become familiar. There is a wide range of effects to marijuana which can be experienced, ranging from a mild high which clears the chaotic mind, to a full body trip, and navigating these is inherently difficult. Once habitual use becomes a thing, the dosage starts to matter to a lesser extent, as the goal is consuming the substance, rather than achieving a certain intended effect.

2.1 About memory holes

Back in the days I heard about classmates getting blackout drunk during the weekends. This is something which had surprised me. I could occasionally drink as much as I wanted without getting blackout drunk. I would have a terrible hangover the next day, but I'd never blackout.

That is, until I started smoking every night before bedtime. At first it was all manageable, until it became habitual. It became increasingly difficult to remember what exactly I had done the night before, mostly because every night started to look the same. I'd drug up, numb down, put up a dumb show, shovel a pizza inside and sit it out until it was about time to sleep. The monotony of this rhythm, combined with the altered perception is what made every night look as dull any other. It's since that realization that I have the hypothesis that blackouts do not happen due to the amount consumed, but rather because of reoccurring rhythm therein.

3. Drug use and mental health

Personally I believe the altered state of perception that comes with the use of certain drugs may be beneficial for symptom relief or (partial) treatment for certain illnesses. There is a lot of recent research ongoing about the impact of certain psychedelics for treating trauma related disorders. Similar research is ongoing about the potential positive impact of marijuana. Though the initial research currently ongoing looks promising, there is an inherent danger to self medication without the oversight of someone intimately familiar (generally a trained counsellor) with the implications of such substance.

When a certain substance is used as a mechanism to relieve symptoms coming from an underlying illness, without effectively treating the specific underlying illness itself, on will be subjected to substance use indefinitely with the adverse effect that both the primary symptoms are still present, with yet another symptom present in the shape of substance abuse, and associated difficulties.

4. Closing remarks

I would like to be careful about acceptance of substance (ab)use for the sole reason that there is a fair change of it being a marker of emotional distress. Additionally, drug use is widespread, and this is something which needs to be acknowledged. As such I would advocate for healthy discussions about the limits of acceptable and safe substance use, instead of condemning use in general. Last but not least I believe it is important to keep questioning the reasons why someone (yourself) has started drug use in the first place. There are two reasons to keep asking this question. Primarily this may act as self assessment to determine whether use is recreational, or whether it has turned habitual. Second to this is that it may be a possibility to recognize some of the underlying causes for substance (ab)use, which in turn may make providing adequate support easier and more effective.


Hey there, I hope you enjoyed this post of mine. If you did, consider sharing this with that one friend who'd also appreciate this. Comments are gone for the time being, but if you feel like discussing something more in-depth, send me a message on Twitter, or just email me.

- Corstian