What is a drug?

I have had such a miserable day and  I can’t wait to sidle up to that counter at Lex Brass and enjoy that first sip of that bourbon.

Stop. What is that?

I have said to more than one person: “I don’t want to mediate my life through substances.” But what does that mean? What makes it mediation versus relaxation versus necessity versus enjoyment? What makes it an addiction versus a socialization tool? What makes it a thing versus a thing?

I don’t know. Who does?

In the last week, I have come across the following, some old and new:

I’m also reading the book Narcoeconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel. (Don’t worry, I’m not pursuing a career change at this time).

All of this has left me with questions: what is a drug? When does it cross over from suitable (morphine) to unsuitable (heroin)? Who decides? We are in the process of legalizing marijuana from recreational or medicinal purposes, and who determines that difference?


What marks the shift from use to abuse?

I don’t know. Let’s go back to the top:

I have had such a miserable day and I can’t wait to hang out at Lex Brass with my friends. We order a couple of drinks and it’s great to have time to kick back and relax.

Go? Caution? Stop? Which is it? Two drinks or three? Five?

(And let’s not even get into the differences between alcohol, weed, cocaine, LSD, oxycontin, et al.)

There would be a strange comfort in being able to know, at all times, if what you were doing, if how you use something, were right or wrong. But, then I think of that first article, the one in HuffPo, which talks about the cultural contexts of addiction and usage and abuse. In certain times and places, it is perfectly fine to use that scotch like a salve; in other places, it is not because there are other people and things that should take the place of the effect it has.

If they took the active ingredient in scotch – alcohol – and stuck it in a tablet and prescribed it on a daily basis, the equivalent of six drinks time-released over an 24-hour period, would that change the context? Of course it would.

If they marketed it via obnoxiously loud television ads (just how many people need that much Viagra) or in sick, well-integrated TV shows (just how much red wine can Olivia Pope drink on Scandal), would that change the context? Of course it would.

If they legalized it and said it will help you more productive at work or school and more present at home and with your kids, would that change the context? Of course it would.

So, back to the original question: what is a drug?

I still don’t have a clear answer. There seems to be no clear demarcation between use and abuse, and when enough is enough. I wish I did, wish I could point to a spot on the line and say “there!” (remember, the false comfort of certainty), but I think the largest change from me over the years has been that I am willing to have a conversation.

Our world is shifting around us, every day, and as that changes, while we need not explicitly change with it – reactivity and excess malleability never got anybody anywhere – we do need to make ourselves aware of it and be willing to engage with that change.


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