Addiction Culture: Coffee, Nicotine, Alcohol, and other social drugs.

My thoughts for the week are directed towards the way that U.S. culture embraces the idea of addiction as a method of either coping with life or simply living productively.

When I was in High School, I struck upon the idea of running a survey at the national level looking for correlation between drinking coffee and cigarette use. I personally have neither the time, money, nor education required to run a scientific survey of the sort, but I would be very interested in seeing the results.

The core mentality that I am putting under the microscope here is analyzing what the people of the U.S. consider as “healthy” addictions. For example, coffee. Caffeine is the simplest and most wide-spread addiction of our time, and it follows a classic drug-use formula. Consumption followed by result, leading to a fall and crash that can be staved off with additional consumption. It creates such a chemical dependence in users that I have it on word-of-mouth from friends in the medical industry that many hospitals use some amount of caffeine in nutrient drips.

Mull that over for a bit. A substance that creates a chemical dependence in users is so commonly used that medical professionals work under the assumption that a person passing through their place of work will be dependent on said substance for baseline functionality.

As a drug, caffeine may not have as dramatic effects as, say, cocaine, but it is an addictive drug nonetheless. The withdrawal symptoms are an accepted excuse for antisocial behavior, especially in the mornings. Corporations provide this drug to their workforce free of charge in break rooms, because use is expected to maintain productivity. It is a commodity that advertises itself, and accessibility is what allows businesses like Starbucks to prosper.

So, what about cigarettes? Time was, and not too long ago either, that cigarettes were the social norm. Though vast campaigns now exist to eliminate their usage, limit their advertising, and restrict their accessibility, the remnants of that social norm are why there are still designated smoking areas, why smoke breaks are still provided. Once again, we see the addictive drug cycle as well; Use, Result, Fall, Withdrawal. Add in all sorts of “fun” cancer in the mix, and there you have it.

Where does alcohol fall into the mix (heh)? Alcohol is “the social lubricant,” the substance that enables social interaction by dropping barriers, and going out for drinks after a long day of work is considered to be a ritual by which coworkers get to know one another. Meeting a potential romantic interest over drinks is classic, or a business partner. Alcohol addiction is rarer, perhaps, than caffeine or nicotine addiction, but it is separate from the others in and of the fact that it is not considered as socially acceptable. Yet, even being less acceptable, it is still accepted as a part of someone’s identity should it not affect their public persona. Hence the “High-functioning Alcoholic.” To be clear, it is still not a “good” thing for a person to be, but the general public (i.e. coworkers, bosses, casual friends, etc.) will generally not attempt to intervene unless the effects spill into the person’s public life.

So, three common drugs that are intrinsically linked with modern society. Three different acceptance scales in reference to said drugs. Yet all are based on the same pattern of addiction. This pattern is one that is encouraged, especially as a respite from a working culture, by society as a whole. The actual addictions are not publicly supported, but the pattern itself?

Take a job. Any job. The worker is expected to show up at times that mean waking up far before the worker would prefer to. The worker is expected to be awake and productive from the moment they enter their place of work, so they take stimulants. They continue taking these stimulants throughout the day, increasing their intake as the effects start to fade due to overuse. The jitters caused as a side effect are stressful, and just increase the stress of work while being tired. To take the edge off, the worker takes a break with a calming inhalant. Sure, the inhalant irritates the lungs and creates a noxious odor, but the calming agent is worth it to get through the day. Of course, breaks run out eventually, and as the calming agent leaves the system, the worker becomes irritable. The jitters don’t leave, the stimulant has stopped helping, and work becomes more and more stressful. Finally, the day ends, and the coworkers want to go out in order to decompress. The worker feels compelled to join them, as it would be rude to refuse, but with the accumulated stresses of the day and the brain chemistry that has been repeatedly chemically altered throughout said day, the worker doesn’t want to think. So, they take a substance that numbs reason, and does so socially.

The worker is productive, and the management that never sees the worker grants them employee of the month.

This is the issue I have with the pattern at the core. Rather than address issues that cause stresses, such as the workday described above, society instead pushes a pattern of substance use that temporarily treats the symptoms of the issues. However, the stimulants and depressants do not stop demanding their use when the work week is done. The pattern, once set, is difficult to break, on a chemical level as well as a behavioral one.

So, patterns of addiction are encouraged in order to maintain an expected level of productivity, though the addictions in question are vilified. The less extreme withdrawal effects, the less the addiction is vilified. They all are, in their own ways, expected addictions. Anyone dealing with life without one or more of them is considered the outsider to the norm.

Soooooooooooooooooooo, why?

Why is it that we can’t as a society push for healthier living habits rather than forcing ourselves and our fellow workers towards unhealthy habits as coping mechanisms?

The only answer that I can come to is money. We have a system set up that is in dire need of repair itself in which a person has to take up unhealthy habits just to be able to feed, clothe, and house themselves.

Where we start fixing that is beyond me. But consider the case of the experiment involving the mouse and the heroin-water. A mouse that is alone would drink the heroin laced water frequently and quickly perish. The mice that were placed in a community of other mice, given creature comforts, and were generally comfortable/happy, avoided the drugged water entirely.

Addiction cycles are based on systems that keep people unhappy and uncomfortable. In order to solve the cycle, introduce a better system. Build community, remove worry, and support one another.

If anyone wants a place to start building a happier community, let me know. I have been working towards the happiness of others for years. I have watched addiction cycles form and break. I want people to be happy, for themselves as well as for me.

I hope that people want me to be happy as well.