I bought a new book the other day on addictions counselling. It is quite good and has some useful information in it. It is the usual sort of thing reflecting mainstream thinking on the topic at the moment. In chapter two it makes a statement that one would not uncommonly find in such a document.
“Contrary to popular belief, most people who use substances do so in ways that cause them relatively little harm”
Why would this be so? Not that it causes relatively little harm but that it would be contrary to popular belief. Why would the wider community have a contrary belief to this?
There are a number of reasons for this which in part answer the question which is the title of this paper. The Australian Psychological Society (APS) has done a position paper on substance use. Now the guys that put these position papers together hard nosed MFs, who eat, sleep and s**t science. You can be sure they know the area very well, they are relatively free of any political pressure so you are going to get a pretty good statement about the science of the area under investigation.
To quote them:
“In Australian history, laws regarding the legality or illegality of certain drugs have been politically driven, and had little to do with the level of use or possible harms that the substances themselves might cause.” (p3)
This creates a problem for government because they say to the public that they are making some drugs illegal because they are dangerous to people’s health. They profess that it is a health issue and what they are doing is for the good of the public. Unfortunately this is not so. They are doing it at least in part for their own political well-being not for the good of the public.
To sell this to the public they then have to set about demonising illegal drugs. They have to exaggerate the dangers thus trying to convince the public that they are acting for their well-being and not for their own political survival.
Thus they demonise illegal drugs in all sorts of ways and hence one ends up with the contrary belief in the wider community that I mentioned earlier. The general public believe illegal drugs are much more dangerous than they actually are and the government has made them illegal to protect us.
From a pure lethality point of view consider this chart below. This was put together by two psychologists who work at Liverpool University in the UK. They looked at the official causes of death through the 1990s and then calculated the risk of death per 100,000 people. They came up with a chart that shows which things are risky for us and which things are less risky for us. Included in it are various drugs.
Very high risk
Tobacco, methadone, injecting drug use, BASE jumping, grand prix racing, cancer, heart disease, space travel
Quite high risk
Heroin, Morphine, barbiturates, alcohol, hang gliding, parachuting, motorbike racing, sudden infant death, working in mining, asbestos poisoning, strokes, prostrate cancer, shaking of babies, off shore oil work
Solvents, benzodiazepines, motor sports, water sports canoeing, diabetes, skin cancer, influenza, suicide, giving birth, helicopter travel, liposuction, working in farming, being in police custody, working in construction
Quite low risk
Ecstasy, MDMA, speed, cocaine, contraception pill, GBH, fighting sports, snow sports soccer & rugby, Asthma, AIDS. meningitis, cervical cancer, food poisoning, air travel, being murdered, chocking on food, electrocution, drowning, passive smoking, factory work
Very low risk
LSD, magic mushrooms, viagra, fair ground rides, swimming, riding sports, food allergies, syphilis, malaria, appendicitis, pedestrian crossings, clothes catching fire, falling out of bed, vaccination, abortion, storms, terrorism
Extremely low risk
Marijuana, cannabis resin, indoor sports, playgrounds, peanut allergy, measles, insect stings, copulation, starvation, dogs, lightening, nuclear radiation, police shootings
Caffeine, nitrous oxide, ketamine, computer games, masturbation, small pox, leprosy, sharks, cats, meteorites, executions, volcanoes
If the government was acting purely for the health of the community it would change the laws on which drugs were illegal. It would make tobacco and alcohol illegal and make marijuana, LSD and ecstacy legal. There is as much chance of dying from ecstacy as there is from choking to death on your dinner or being blown up in a plane by a terrorist. In addition as far as drugs go marijuana is the safest drug you are going to get.
Then some will argue that marijuana may not kill you but it can make you go crazy with a cannabis induced psychosis. Unfortunately as time rolls on the science has simply not backed up this hypothesis. Yes it is very unwise for a person with a propensity for psychotic symptoms to use marijuana and the vast majority of marijuana users will suffer no mental health problems at all. Hence back to the original quote from my newly purchased addictions counselling book and the APS position paper.
Is a government going to make such legislative changes with illegal drugs? I don’t think so. If they did they wouldn’t be in government for very long which is why they have to exaggerate the dangers of illegal drugs and thus mislead the public in this way. Pretend to act for the good of the public when they are actually acting for their own political survival.
However despite all the politics this does raise some interesting questions for the drug counsellor and indeed parents of children who may use drugs. Does a drug counsellor (or parent) use scare tactics with the client (child).
One way to try and stop a person using drugs is to make such a thing very scary for them. Get them to believe that drugs are much more dangerous than they actually are so they get scared and don’t use. Commonly known as scare tactics.
To do this you have to lie to them even if only lying by omission. Is it OK and therapeutic for a counsellor to lie to a client? Most would argue no. To my mind you have to tell the drug user the truth even when you don’t like what the truth is.
If you tell them that marijuana can make people go crazy the first thing they will do is make their own observations. With the vast majority of marijuana users they will think - “Well I have smoked marijuana and I haven’t gone crazy”. Then they will look around at all their marijuana using friends and see that none of them have not gone crazy as well. After making these observations what is the drug user going to think - “My counsellor is lying to me”, as indeed he is.
As a result trust is broken, the therapeutic relationship is damaged and the counselling suffers, at times significantly. Besides this most drug users have heard it all before anyway. Their parents, teachers, the police, the press, the government and drug counsellors have all exaggerated the dangers of drugs to them many times before. So if you, the current drug counsellor comes along and tells the user the truth and the WHOLE truth they are going to be surprised and maybe even shocked by such a transaction from you. Thus the therapeutic relationship is placed on a much more robust footing and the drug counselling is more likely to be successful.
If you lie to the teenager can you expect them to tell you all of what they are doing?
In particular they are more likely to be truthful with you about what they are doing and why they are doing it. Can you really expect a client to be truthful with you, the counsellor, when you are lying to them in the first place. If you lie to them you have to expect them to lie back to you.