Why Everybody Is On Drugs

I recently watched a Vice documentary on codeine cough syrup addiction in Africa (along with some other crazy Africa documentaries which were almost overwhelmingly captivating, like The Mysterious Animal Gangs Of Nigeria or The life of the super-rich in Central Africa. And yes, I know very well that this is not what most of Africa looks like).

In any case, the Vice documentary is about young men getting high on cough syrup with Codeine in Zimbabwe. They use a brand called BronCleer, and apparently it makes you feel “both drunk and high”.
Even though it’s technically illegal, it’s being imported and sold on every corner.

The side effects of heavy use are hardcore: respiratory problems, dangerously low blood pressure, rotting teeth (they pour it into their throat directly to avoid this), and “permanent damage to the brain, heart and liver”.

That sounds insanely dangerous. Why would anybody destroy their health for a high that only lasts a few hours? It seems almost inconceivable to normal people.
I get it, though.

You don’t have to make wild guesses to figure out why these young men get high, they reveal it themselves. One of the young addicts summarizes it quite well: “The main reason is unemployment. You don’t have things to do. You don’t get stressed or worried”.
Another guy adds “This one makes us feel better..you don’t think too much when you take this.”
“Every day I take one bottle. Then I feel high and I don’t think anything”.

The hopelessness is not surprising: Zimbabwe is in a sad state, with 90% of the population without formal employment. The country was pretty much run into the ground by former dictator Robert Mugabe (now there’s democracy finally, but it will take long before things get better).

Feeling hopeless, bored and without a purpose in life can be extremely stressful. Most of us in the West complain about having too much to do, too much work, appointments, hobbies – but having nothing to do all day must be much worse (unless you manage to live like a monk and meditate all day).

As a sidenote, the Codeine thing is very popular in America and Europe too. It seems most rappers are on codeine all the time, like Future or Lil Baby who make songs glorifying the “purple drank” – no wonder kids want to try it.

In any case, here’s what I kept thinking after watching the documentary:
What these young men crave, so much that they are willing to essentially sacrifice their health for it, is to stop thinking.

Thinking when we don’t want to think causes pain, and drugs can offer relief because we think less, or we think nicer thoughts.
I’d wager most of us use some drug or a combination of drugs to help us fight our unpleasant thoughts (usually alcohol, some weed, some SSRIs, some Adderall, some harder stuff). Most of us just want some distance from our pressing problems, we want some room to breathe, just a little bit of peace!

I don’t think we’re really better or stronger than drug addicts – we’re just lucky that we were dealt better cards, i.e. our childhood wasn’t too bad and/or our genes aren’t too bad. Or we got lucky and haven’t randomly met anyone who gave us meth to try.

This is why I never look down on drugs addicts. For them, real physical pain will usually be added on top of the mental pain, and the drugs become just a means to feel “normal” again, to get back to baseline, not even to feel good. It’s a vicious cycle, obviously. And the “war on drugs” has terribly failed, arguably. Most drug addicts are sensitive and hurt, and nobody listens to their pain. It think legalizing almost all drugs could make sense (when you ask for hard drugs, you should get free therapy automatically, in an ideal world).

Looking at the African men on codeine in the documentary, you see them zoned out, looking like Zombies with red eyes. Even though I’ve never tried Codeine myself, I can imagine that it’s a warm feeling of “I don’t care and I don’t need to care”.

I’ve long suspected that many or most of us would rather be Zombies, disassociated from life with all its responsibilities and disappointments (roaming around and having no worries except finding brains to eat would be pretty chill, I guess).  

To put my self-help hat on, I’d say we should try to find healthy ways to deal with our unpleasant thoughts, and they usually involve doing something hard as well like meditation or working out. It seems there rarely is a “free lunch” when it comes to our biology. If a drug sounds too good to be true, there usually is a problematic side effect that we might only see later.

But putting my realist hat on, my prediction for the future looks grimmer: We will all take more and more drugs. There will be more and better drugs, adapted to your brain, your mental health issues and your goals (maybe one for work, one for VR sex (yes I think this will replace the real thing), one for relaxing). And they will probably be sold legally by Big Pharma who will make billions off of this. This trend will be exacerbated by a growing percentage of the workforce that just isn’t needed due to automation and globalization, religion and the nuclear family as stabilizing forces becoming rarer and rarer … and who knows which new pandemics and catastrophes the next years have in store for us.

Short plug: If you want to hear more (personal) thoughts on this topic as well as extra segments and ASMR recommendations, you can check out my Patreon-only ASMR Bedtime Show.

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