22. Chasing the Scream – NTT #22

chasing the scream COVER

This will officially be my last post for a couple weeks. I’m moving to NYC next week!  Arriving Wednesday the 25th.  There will be a flurry of activity finding our apartment, and a new job, and then Devin will drive out with a uHaul and the dog at the end of March, so I won’t have my piano for about a month.  But, I will have my computer, and if there’s anything worth talking about, I’ll make a post on here.

In the mean time, I just finished an astonishing book and wanted to share some of the thoughts from it with you guys!


I know we all have a pretty visceral reaction to the war on drugs.  Maybe you totally support it.  You’ve had someone that was an addict in your family or circle of friends, and you want to see everything done to rid the Earth of the chemicals that imprisoned your loved one.


Or maybe you’ve seen how the war on drugs literally imprisons addicts–disproportionately incarcerating people of color and poverty.  Maybe you’ve seen someone’s life that was series of small traumas, and one day they discovered weed.  Or meth.  Or heroine.  And the drug helped put up a wall between themselves and their pain.  It didn’t fix the pain. In fact, it probably made the pain worse, but it separated them from their grief.  They were arrested with possession, imprisoned, and isolated from everyone they loved, and any stability they had created for themselves.  They were ripped from their lives and placed in prison to be harassed, intimidated, and worse, only to emerge years later with a criminal record and the promise that no jobs will hire them, no public housing will take them, and their friends and family won’t trust them anymore.


As you can probably tell, I don’t support the War on Drugs.  The War on Drugs is a proven failure.  We’ve sunk billions of dollars into this war and what to we have to show for it?  More crime, more homicide, more money for the gangs that sell the drugs, and more addiction.

“Chasing the Scream” WILL change your mind on how we deal with drugs in America.  We don’t need a War on Drugs.  We need a war on the conditions that create addiction.  Drugs aren’t the only addiction, they’re just the only addiction that we punish with felonies and prison time.  Our society breeds addiction: to food, gambling, shopping, the internet, computers, phones, you name it.  We are a society of obsessive-compulsives, trying to hide from the fact that we are increasingly isolated from friends, family, and ourselves.  the-lonely-man

Let me explain.  We evolved for thousands of years as tribal humans.  To be separated from the tribe was to risk death by wild animal, exposure, exhaustion, starvation or dehydration.  Our brain has a complicated system of hormones and chemicals that are released in tandem with our contextual experience.  When we are bonding with the tribe–when we are close to others–our brain knows it is safe, and it releases chemicals that make us feel secure like dopamine and oxytocin.  When we are separated from the tribe our animal brains start to take over, and they release a different set of chemicals: cortisols (stress hormones), adrenaline, and other anxiety and depression causing agents.  They create the fight or flight response that will, hopefully, encourage us to return to the tribe,  and bond with our fellow tribespeople.  I spoke about this in the “Emotional Capital” entry last month.


Those humans that stuck to the tribe tended to survive and pass down those traits to their kids. Those that didn’t tended to be killed or die before they could reproduce.  We inherited this complicated network of hormones and chemicals.  They aren’t really useful anymore–there are no animals out to get us–but that’s what we have to deal with. So that’s what we need to work with.

When we lose ourselves in drugs, or the internet, or eating, or shopping, all we are doing is trying to simulate those same chemicals in our minds.  Because that’s all drugs are: they stimulate the chemicals we already have in our brains.  They create the same feelings of bonding and warmth that we used to receive from living in a tight-knit tribe (heroine, opiates).  Or, they create a dense wall of chemical excitation between ourselves and the pain of isolation (meth, cocaine, crack).

The War on Drugs escalated in lock step with the development of our modern, consumer society.  Addiction rates were indeed going up in the country in the early 20th century.  But it wasn’t because there were more drugs, or stronger drugs, or more evil immigrants.  It was because of the consumer driven, materialistic society that was arising.  We let go of our tight-knit communities and neighborhoods in favor of things:  Objects.  Nicer cars, bigger houses.  Bigger yards with fences around them.  And we have suffered for it.


Combine that with an already high incidence of childhood trauma because of poor education and poverty, and we have our modern world.  We’re addicted to everything: prescription pain pills, weed, food, sugar, the internet, anti-depressants–you name it.  But the addiction isn’t THE problem. It is a symptom of the larger problem: our communities are destroyed, our tribes scattered to the wind.

Compulsion is the answer most of us find.  It’s much more convenient than trying to create new bonds with people.  Especially when you’re depressed and you don’t feel like reaching out to people.  It’s a vicious cycle.  We obsess about whatever we can.  Reality TV, Fantasy Football, writing, drugs, etc.  Some of them are good!  Some of them further our lives and create better environments for ourselves and others.  But other compulsions, like hoarding, ruin lives.

Hoarding is a physical manifestation of the walls all addicts create to keep others from seeing them, and to keep themselves from seeing themselves.

Hoarding is a physical manifestation of the walls all addicts create to keep others from seeing them, and to keep themselves from seeing themselves.

Either way, good or bad, the compulsion creates a wall between ourselves and the dread of living untethered in a disconnected society.

Some of these ideas in this entry are in the book.  Some of them I’ve combined with things I already suspected but wasn’t sure about until I read the book.   READ THIS BOOK. It contains this, and SO much more.  We are destroying too many lives.  Even though, statistically, white people buy and do more drugs than people of color, there are more African-American men incarcerated in the U.S. today than there were slaves in 1850.  This is affecting EVERYONE’s lives.  We can’t have a functioning, happy culture if we keep kicking our drug addicts under the rug, while the other addicts (us) run around causing the same psychological pain to themselves and society.

The book shows pretty convincingly that the answer to our drug problem is actually through creating safe spaces for addicts: counseling, rehab, free housing, and clean needle rooms with supervising doctors and nurses.  Legalize and regulate ALL drugs, just like we’ve done with cigarettes and alcohol–two of the most dangerous, addictive chemicals we know about.  If we can do it with those two, we can certainly do it with all of them.  And if this sounds expensive, it is.  But it’s actually LESS expensive then the current war on drugs.  And instead of those billions of dollars spent on drugs going to gangs throughout the world, and leading to homicide and death, the money goes right back into helping addicts and teaching the next generation how to have good psychological health, and what the true costs and beneifts of drugs are.

Read the book.  Seriously.  Now.  It’s amazing.

As I said, this is my last post for a few weeks.  Thanks so much for staying tuned in.  It’s been about 6 months since I started this website.  Here’s to another 6!


Sam Wessels

I am a writer, composer, actor, and gamer, with six musicals written, one piano album published, and one boyfriend to come home to. Come back each tuesday for a new and original piano performance.

One Comment

  1. Wow. Those stats are scary… I never looked at the war on drugs from this awesome perspective…

    Good luck in the big city…Take luck!!!



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