The high really isn’t worth the pain
Eighteen years ago, my aunt’s fiancé Grant went to close his family’s cottage in Southampton, Ontario with several of his high school friends. It was an unusually chilly night for early November and they had postponed the trip to attend a friend’s wedding the weekend before. He was taking cold medication, and when they arrived at the cottage, they started drinking and taking psilocybin mushrooms, better known as magic mushrooms. He left the cottage late at night and walked to the beach before heading into town. He was naked. People saw him wandering around, but no one tried to help him. His friends at the cottage were so intoxicated that they could not find him. By the time the police found his body in a ditch two miles away the next morning, he had died from hypothermia.
I was eight years old and had only met him a few times. He was the first family member I knew who died and, although I do not remember much, it still marked me to some extent. It is part of the reason why I have never taken drugs.
According to a 2012 study by the Quebec Rehabilitation Centres Association, about a quarter of young adults aged 15 to 24 years old have used cannabis in the past year without using other substances. On top of that, 12 to 15 per cent of 15 to 24 year-olds have consumed other drugs (with or without the use of cannabis). In total, 34.9 per cent of women and 44.4 per cent of men aged 15 to 24 have used at least one illicit drug in the past year.
I am the other 75 per cent, and though I fall within the majority, it has often felt like I was one of the only ones of my peers not using drugs. It makes me feel uneasy and I find it disturbing that it has become normal, even to me, to be around people who are almost always high or drunk.
“I notice two trends: to demonize drugs and to trivialize them. I think the reality is somewhere in between,” said Éric Gascon, a social worker at Le Virage Rehabilitation Centre in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield and a lecturer on addiction at the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM).
“We must try to understand as much the reality of people who do not do drugs as those who do take them,” said Gascon.
Gascon explains the cycle of addiction in which people get caught. “The reward comes immediately when we consume, and the punishment will come later. There is a behavioural effect where we will have problems later, but we will not always associate them with the consumption,” he said.
When someone is addicted to drugs, they have more trouble setting boundaries, said Gascon. “They will do it at the wrong time and place that could get them into trouble. There is something stronger within them that drives them to do it.”
It also becomes more difficult to manage one’s consumption of drugs, since we cannot be sure of the composition of a substance even during recreational consumption, he said.
Myriam Cardinal, a planning, programming and research agent at the Rehabilitation Centre in Montreal, University Institute (CRDM-IU), said that drug consumption often starts in a recreational form and is supposed to be pleasurable. “But in dependency, people consult because they accumulate a bunch of negative consequences due to their consumption,” said Cardinal. “The idea is to name the issue as soon as possible.”
“Four to five per cent of the population who consume drugs have a problem in abuse or dependency. That means that it is not everyone who consumes that has a consumption problem,” said Cardinal.
But for those who do have a problem, physical and psychological dependency come at a cost. The detox process takes an average of seven to 10 days, while a psychological dependency can last a lifetime. “The craving for consumption can come back almost anytime. It will fade, but it will still remain. There can be relapses,” said Cardinal. Drug rehabilitation centres in Quebec provide free services to people who have addiction problems, and can help those who are still using recreationally to reduce and eventually stop.
Nothing could ever completely stop humans from taking drugs, which is why a regulatory framework is needed, said Gascon. “If we want to control consumption, if we want to be able to regulate it in a spirit of public health, we will have to go through legalization, a bit like we do with alcohol.” He believes that it would be better to manage distribution by having legal drug outlets, because for now it is relegated to the black market. He would like to see on-site services where people could go to buy drugs and there would be health workers to give assistance if needed. Gascon said that if one drug is legal, all drugs should be legal as well. “There is always a question of morality when something that is bad for people is sold,” added Gascon.
Grant was 26 years old when he died, the same age as I am today. Everyone loved him and his death traumatized all of his friends and family. It also had a number of consequences for a large circle of people who were either closely related to him or distant relatives.