I Said No to Drugs
Life is about taking decisions. It’s the processing of reasoning about what we seek from ourselves and from others. I make the point in this chapter that drugs confuses our ability to make decisions, by essentially clouding our judgement. Those who say that drugs are cool, might still suffer with them and make decisions that even for seasoned drug users place their lives in danger. What I never understood is why it is that those who take drugs gain pleasure from tempting a non-drug user to try them for the first time. To imagine that behaviour, but to happen to a friend, how could I be responsible for that? While others try to convince me to try drugs for the first time, I continue to convince myself against it.
Making decisions is a vital part of life. From what we decide to wear in the morning, to the breakfast we choose to eat, to how we commute to school or work. A single change in a decision could change the outcome of the day. However, the likeliness for decisions to affect our day or for it to significantly affect us depends on the grade of the decision. For instance, eating a chocolate bar in the morning instead of bowl of cereal and milk before work might not make us be more or less successful in our careers, but if eating a chocolate bar makes us less full, it could mean that we get hungrier in the morning and end up affecting our performance at work. Higher grade decisions, such as accepting a business proposal, does have a higher likelihood of affecting one’s career, as it would open us to more opportunities, gain partners or collaborators and even perhaps increase sales or company performance. It could in the same sense have negative outcomes, as some higher grade decisions involve a degree of risk. While we can make evidence-based predictions, we cannot say for sure how our decisions will impact our lives in the long-term.
We tend to make decisions based on our moods, using evidence of what we’ve learnt from previous decisions (assess likelihood of a positive outcome), or maybe we are tempted in making a decision quickly, such as impulse buying, because advertising works very well sometimes. We may also think ahead and explore the possible, yet unlikely consequences created by a fear to do something or as lack of control over a situation. We might plan ahead before a long journey, choosing multiple routes in case there are disruptions in one. But what we create are options that we perceive as being better than another. I’ve been in the situation where I am about to board a plane and boarding is cancelled because hydraulic problems were reported, and engineers would have to check the plane before departure. In such dilemmas, we might choose to board the plane when its deemed safe or choose alternative travel, which might cost more money, be less convenient, and open to a new series of outcomes that would have never been possible if we stuck to the first decision. When I experienced this dilemma, my first instinct was to not get on a faulty airplane, and try to find alternative routes of transport, but that proved difficult. Ticket prices were above £800, and at the time I wasn’t ready to spend that much for better convenience. I also feared that by making an alternative decision without much evidence and rather personal bias and fear, I would be entering a set of choices and outcomes that I wouldn’t be able to anticipate because I had not planned ahead. So, I decided to stick to my planned travel, bought two bottles of red wine and sat near the gate and drank them. A few hours later, we were boarding the faulty plane. After boarding, I found out from the flight staff that the scheduled plane was replaced and my fears of getting on a faulty plane had disappeared. However, only by making the decision of boarding what I thought was the faulty airplane, did I find out that it had been replaced. I perhaps would have come across other types of dilemmas by choosing an alternative route.
The concept is easy but trying to reason through decisions when we are unsure of their outcome, is less easy. I’ve taken a situation like approaching a fork in the road and given a personal example. The dilemma is easy to visualise, the choice of which route to take without any evidence of either outcome. And sometimes we make a decision and once we are halfway down the road, we regret it and like to change it. Maybe in this hypothetical scenario, it is feasible to walk back to the fork in the road and take the other route. Though in reality, this might not be possible. What bothers me the most is that we will never know the outcome of the decision that we did not make. This fear is equally applicable to not knowing the consequences of taking drugs, though I do know that I have more control of the outcome if I say ‘no’. I am curious, don’t get me wrong. I would love to see my future after the decision to take drugs, and if I didn’t like it, to return in time before I made the decision. We might actually like that very much for certain decisions that we’ve made through life. Over the summer, before my first year at university, I met new people on a night out, and we all shared our past experiences. One story in particular caught my attention. This guy named Daniel described to everyone the night when he drove under the influence of alcohol. He told us that he saw his car outside of the pub, he reasoned he needed to get home and decided to drive home, because it seemed like the easiest solution. Although, it was alcohol, Daniel reiterated the main problem with drugs. It distorts the ability to think rationally and to make decisions properly. In Daniel’s case, he made a decision that solely affected him, without consideration of how his decision would affect others, which in such conditions could have resulted in injury or even death.
I reflected on my past experiences and thought about why it was that my friends never truly understood or accepted by decision to refuse drugs. It was as if my friends were not able to rationalise my decision of saying ‘no to drugs’, and so they wondered if my attitude was like this because of the legality of marijuana or misinformation about it. I was not scared to use because it in Germany was illegal; I lived close to Amsterdam, where it is perfectly legal to smoke weed and I never went looking for that. When I lived in Netherlands, I only heard one friend say that he had smoked weed, and although it seemed as if he was proud of it, he encouraged us to never start smoking marijuana. His reason to avoid it was not because it was unhealthy, but rather because it could lead to drinking alongside, which can cause a very bad reaction and may be lethal in some cases. I appreciated his concern for everyone else’s sake, but that didn’t stop him from doing it from time to time, and I only wish he took his own advice. But this problem was widespread. About two years later, I was at a birthday party with Vinny, around the time he had started to smoke weed socially. There was plenty of alcohol and Dominic, had brought him weed as a present. It was Mitch that for some reason, despite knowing that I didn’t smoke, advised me to never smoke marijuana when alcohol had been consumed. Despite his warning, he didn’t take the advice himself. A few hours later, after smoking and drinking, I saw him lying on the floor and looked after by Cassey. Seeing Mitch on the verge of passing out, because of the lethal combination of weed and vodka, made me sick to my stomach. He could barely speak or function properly; he looked like the character from the 2008 web-based ragdoll game QWOP when he tried to walk. Soon after, he became an immobile mannequin—cold and pale. The sad part was that there was no one else caring for Mitch. I stopped by to ask how he was doing but Cassey told me to walk away and to leave him alone. I was a bit annoyed as I sensed that she wanted to care for him alone, perhaps as a way to seek a closer relationship with him. The rest of us, we continued having a good time and were good enough to continue drinking at the pub. This pub sold its beer in meters and had a speciality shot which was half tabasco sauce and half vodka. That night, I kept smoking because cigarettes were as freely available as the alcohol and ended up smoking a pack of 20 cigarettes, or maybe even more. The next morning, I experience something worse than being hungover. I was shaking and craving for cigarettes, after I had smoked the equivalent of what a seasoned smoker would smoke in a day. For my own sake, cigarettes although highly forbidden by my father but less so by my mother, weren’t on my list as unacceptable drugs that I was okay with taking in the quantity that I did. Though I did question had it been a controlled drug, would I crave it just the same or perhaps it would be worse? Later that night I was better, but it wasn’t the first time I woke up shaking as my body was deficient of nicotine. The first time I had a full cigarette, in Prague, I felt the same. On neither occasion did I follow through the craving sensation and satisfy it with more cigarettes, as I had no interest in smoking or the sensation, and I knew that doing this would simply make me more dependent on them and further fuel the addiction.
And that’s partly my next view towards drugs. If I were to do drugs, I think I would have to have a very good reason why I would choose to do them. I met Dave and Steve in the first week at university, and they had very different opinions on this and they shared their reasoning why they would do drugs. Dave’s attitude was that since he was going to university and experience new things, that he had to try them. I figured that this was just an excuse to blend better around new people and to keep up with expectations of others. I didn’t agree with him that it was part of my university experience to try new drugs. I understand that starting university is a chance to learn new things and meet people from different cultures and backgrounds but taking drugs to reach a superficial connection or appreciation to new things or with myself wasn’t on my list of planned activities. Steve’s attitude was more targeted towards trying to convince others to do drugs, whereas Dave’s answer way mainly directed at his personal opinion. Steve said that taking drugs was part of the university experience, and that I could not judge it, until I tried drugs. He was partially correct, since I could have an incorrect thinking over the use of drugs and only would be able to judge them once I tried them. However, that is plainly an excuse to encourage someone to make decisions that are not the best for them. But what he didn’t count for there being an overwhelming amount of evidence on the negative effects of drug usage, bordering more on the effects of drugs on individual people, rather than if a drug may be taken in controlled amounts to help a medical condition. For instance, marijuana is often used as a muscle relaxant in certain illnesses, but in these cases, it is a regulated amount of high-grade drug being consumed as medication and not recreation. Steve and people like him, tend to use arguments that apply to different situations, for instance when controlled drugs are okay to use, and will try to convince that some drugs shouldn’t be judged because they are classed as less of a drug (“weed is a plant and it is natural”) than other controlled substances like cocaine or heroin (synthesised and chemically manipulated).
If I ever wanted to take drugs, what would the reason be? I think that the most obvious reason is curiosity. It is the curiosity of the effects of drugs that have on the mind and responses that interest me the most. However, I am not curious about marijuana, in fact, the relaxing effect of the drug does not provide me any feelings of need or want. I am a very impatient person, who easily gets overwhelmed and restless. I think weed would relax me to the point that I’d feel stressed and would want to break free. Instead, I am more interested on the effects of more potent drugs like cocaine, LSD, meth, and even heroin, which make curiosity one of the most dangerous reasons why to try drugs. Another reason that I think is very common is for social acceptance. Perhaps I would be missing out on being friends with really cool people if I were to take drugs. But the more I think about it, what would these people have in common with me? Nothing, just that we once tried the same drug. They might have different childhoods and may have different expectations from those they consider friends. They may just like to take drugs and be absent from reality, from new ideas or their feelings, or maybe they don’t want to be themselves. How could I that enjoys being myself come and lower my standards so I can be friends with people like this. If I were seeking acceptance from people that take drugs, and I were to take drugs, perhaps I may miss out on some of the better people around me, who think and have the same values as I do.
There was only one person that I ever met in my early adulthood who smoked weed to the point of addition. Leslie, who Mitch introduced to us sometime before graduating from high school, was a known drug user at the school, who had been in trouble many times for being under the influence of drugs while attending classes. He ran with his own group of older guys who had a reputation for smoking weed every day. To everyone else, Leslie was cool. He talked naturally about his use of other drugs, such as cocaine and LSD and described how he became addicted to cocaine after taking only one line. After a while, all his stories were mundane, and his speech became monotonous. Every time he would be with us, he would literally only talk about drugs and taking drugs. Over time, we found him very boring and joked around of what his topic of conversation would be, knowing that he would not deviate from a topic of drugs. We still accepted him and so did the majority of the school. While he was well known to everyone, I don’t consider that he was cool. The only cool thing about him was that he had several stories about doing all types of drugs in wild parties and having a bad boy personality in the school around the teachers. I suppose he had nothing else interesting to say other than all the times he smoked weed and had cocaine. Ash was a school friend who was like me, although hardly wanted to fit in. He liked the way he was, didn’t pretended to be anything else, and was okay being by himself around others. I suppose this had some impact on me and I often took him as being a target to manipulate. I hardly held any position of ‘power’ in school, where I would think of myself as cooler than another student, so picking on those that seemed more vulnerable was something new and something that I tried. One day, I was talking to Ash in a friendly non-confrontational way, as I tried to convince him to start smoking cigarettes. I wasn’t trying to influence him nor would have pressured him into doing it, I rather wanted to hear what his defence would be, especially someone who seemed so oblivious to anything that was going on around him. He wouldn’t budge, so I told him if he wanted to be more popular, he should try smoking, because ‘smoking is cool’.
Leslie happened to overhear the conversation, came over to use and said “Smoking is not cool. Believe me.”
At some point, I believed that smoking was cool; the way it was advertised, the forbidden habit done by many of my friends and the way it was portrayed in popular culture. I never asked my friends about their tobacco smoking habits, but I recall that several of my school mates remarked how starting was easy but stopping was not. I suppose I didn’t quite grasp the difficulty of addition, and I do believe that social smoking has the potential to turn into a physical (levels of the addictive substances, i.e., nicotine) and psychological (having the cigarette in hand) addiction. I never smoked consistently that I had a physical addiction to the contents of a cigarette, in fact, I didn’t really get much from smoking, other than feeling cool by doing it. I had more of the psychological addiction to smoking, and I still do, despite being advised to not smoke. When I smoked cigarettes, I was around a different lot of people, as we smoked outside pubs and nightclubs. These interactions wouldn’t have happened had I not smoked, I thought. And I was oblivious to the physical element of smoking or the consequences. It’s not that I didn’t know about them, but they simply seemed irrelevant. I continued to smoke other tobacco products such as Shisha pipes and cigars, as I got deeper into the culture of smoking. The reality was that it was the refined culture of smoking that interested me more than anything. To me, smoking expensive cigarettes (Davidoff) and cigars (Cohiba) was a symbol of status. I had a metal case for my cigarettes and several limited-edition Zippo lighters. I even learnt a few tricks for the Zippo to light cigarettes in style. Never did I consider that my admiration to smoking tobacco products was in the same part of the spectrum as that of a weed smoker following the marijuana culture, something that I have always despised.