Herd

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: herd.

I am reading Dopesick, newly out this year, by Beth Macy. I am wondering what make people try addictive substances. At what age and why? To be popular? Herd mentality?

I’ve interviewed my older smokers for years, asking what age they started. Most of them say they tried cigarettes at age 9. Nine, you say? Yes. Parents then look horrified when I say that they should start talking about drugs and alcohol and tobacco by the time their child is in third grade. Recently a woman told me that she tried cigarettes at age 7.

It’s not just talking to your kids, either. It’s modeling as well. What do you model for tobacco, for alcohol, for prescription medicines, supplements and over the counter medicines? Do you say one thing but do another?

I am 100 pages in to Dopesick. The most horrifying new information is that more people under age 50 have died from opioid overdose then died in the 1990s from HIV and AIDS. Also the failure of history: we have had morphine available over the counter until addiction swept the country. Then heroin. This round is oxycontin. And I checked the index: no mention of kratom, sold from southeast asia. It is related to the coffee plant but it works as an opioid. It has been illegal in Thailand since 1943. I think they figured out that it too is addictive a long time ago.

I was an introvert, a smart girl, a geek before there was a word. I did not party and was not invited. I went to Denmark as an exchange student. I tried a cigarette there and decided that I couldn’t afford it and it tasted awful. I drank beer there, but was careful. I did go to a party where I was offered a bowl of pills: no. I was cautious and became even more cautious when I returned to the US.

When and what did you try first? And WHY? What makes us try these addictive substances? The evidence is piling up that the younger we try them, the more chance of addiction. And certain substances addict very very quickly.

Who chooses not to be part of the herd and why?

14 thoughts on “Herd

  1. I never tried smoking because I was scared of it and I didn’t like the kids who did it. I was also a geek and a loner and I went to an Ivy League college. The kids who hung out in the smoking lounge seemed like losers to me, not college-bound, going nowhere. I was also influenced by the pictures of diseased lungs from smoking that we saw in health class and I thought smoking was nasty. I tried pot once, in brownies, in my 20’s, because I was curious about its effects on the brain, and I like brownies. And I didn’t like pot either. I first felt nothing, so I probably ate too many brownies, and then ended up feeling paranoid and sick with a hangover that lasted the entire next day. I never wanted to repeat that experience, and have not!

    Alcohol, though, I could get into trouble with if I kept it in the house. I like the taste of wine, and drinking a glass or two makes me feel good. It helps me with anxiety, especially social anxiety, and I have been through periods when I self-medicated social anxiety with wine or beer. But if I do that several days in a row I need more than 1-2 glasses to get the same relaxing effect, and >3 glasses of wine makes me feel sick later. So nowadays I drink a glass of wine socially, on special occasions, and I enjoy that. But I don’t buy wine and keep it in the house on a regular basis. I’m still searching for better ways to manage anxiety. Music and chocolate are my main go-to’s these days.

  2. I was addicted to Diet Coke. 2 litres a day. I have difficulty concentrating so I was self-medicating. When I got pregnant, I stopped. I couldn’t stand the taste. But I started again, and then was soon back to two litres again. Then I got pregnant again. Same thing. Couldn’t stand the taste. Not a single drop has passed my lips since. Two children are enough. :)

    I won’t touch alcohol. I have enough trouble managing my Type 1 diabetes without adding alcohol to the mix, especially given my proclivity for self-medicating. As for my kids, they abstain. But don’t get me started on computer games. :)

  3. Susanne says:

    I started drinking when I was 14 to be cool. I was definitely a lost deer looking for a herd. I quit for a year at 16 when my father died of alcohol induced cirrhosis of the liver but took it up again with gusto in university. Same longing for herd. I don’t drink much to speak of at all anymore tho I do worry about my youngest daughter who just started university. There is so much available to kids now.

    • drkottaway says:

      Bravo to you for surviving and quitting the heavy stuff…. and I hope you are talking to your kids about your father. My father got pretty trashed over one Christmas when my kids were in their teens. He arrived already with a drink or two or three on board. He went to pour himself a glass of wine and I said, “If you drink that, you have to stay the night.” I truly would have taken his keys and since he had COPD and was on oxygen, he knew I could. He answered, “Ok, I will stay.” and drank the wine.

  4. V.J. Knutson says:

    The numbers of high school students who experiment is disheartening. I think the percentage who do not is as low as 10%. Those that don’t seem to be okay with being loners, because that is the price they pay.

  5. granonine says:

    Never, ever tried/sampled any of it. No interest in doing so. I dislike the idea of something controlling my thinking and behavior and, by association, my emotions. Not for me. And I’ve lived quite happily for 71 years without any of it :)

  6. As is often the case, clicking on “like” just seems wrong, but I do like that you share things like this. Meaningful! Helpful! Thought-provoking!

    And to my own horror, I smoked TWO PACKS a day from age 12 to age 22!!! (And there was a pregnancy in there!)

    I have had lung problems my whole life!

    What I want to know is where were all the f-ing ADULTS in my life?? How did I get away with that??

    • drkottaway says:

      I don’t know… but the children with high “ACE” scores, adverse childhood experience scores, may have both opportunity and also parents who are tuned out. Or missing.

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