The use of narcotic substances isn't usually a topic about which I have strong feelings. I don't take drugs myself, and I tend not to associate myself with people who do; but then again, I see no reason to stop other members of society from exercising their liberties, in the form of recreational drug use. I've never before spoken much about this subject.
However, one of my best friends recently died from a drug overdose. On account of that, I feel compelled to pen a short article, describing what I believe are some good reasons to choose to not take drugs.
1. They harm you
It's no secret that narcotic substances cause physical and mental damage to those who use them. Recreational users are often quick to deny the risks, but ultimately there's no hiding from the truth.
The list of physical problems that can directly arise from drug use is colossal: heart attack; stroke; liver failure; diabetes; asthma; eye deterioration; and sexual impotence, to name a few common ones. In the case of injected drugs, the risk of HIV / AIDS from infected needles is, of course, also a major risk.
Physical damage is, however, generally nothing compared to the long-term mental damage caused by narcotics: anxiety; hallucination; schizophrenia; and profound depression, to name but a few. Perhaps the worst mental damage of all, though, is the chemical addiction that results from the use of most narcotics.
Narcotic substances can, and often do, radically change someone's personality. They result in the user transforming into a different person, and this seldom means transforming for the better. The worst harm they do, is that they rob you of who you once were, with little hope of return. Couple this with the problem of addiction, and the only way forward for many drug users is downhill.
2. They're expensive
This is in one respect the most trivial reason to not take drugs, and in another respect a very serious concern. Anyway, the fact is that at their Western "street prices", drugs are no cheap hobby. For some people (unfortunately not for everyone), the fact that drugs are clearly a ripoff and an utter waste of money, is enough to act as a deterrant.
At the trivial end of things, the fact that recreational drug use is expensive isn't by itself a concern. All hobbies cost something. You could easily pay more for a golf club membership, or for an upmarket retail therapy spree, or for a tropical paradise vacationing habit. If your income can support your leisure, then hey, you might as well enjoy life.
However, as mentioned above, drugs are addictive. As such, a mounting drug addiction inevitably leads to an exponential increase in the cost of maintaining the habit. No matter how much money you have, eventually a drug addiction will consume all of it, and it will leave you so desperate for more, that no avenue to cash will be below you.
Drug users that begin "recreationally", all too often end up stealing, cheating and lying, just to scrounge up enough cash for the next fix. As such, it's not the price itself of drugs, but rather the depths to which addicts are prepared to plunge in order to pay for them, that is the real problem.
3. They're illegal
Whether you have much respect for the law or not, the fact is that narcotics are illegal in every corner of the world, and by consuming them you are breaking the law. If you don't respect the law, you should at least bear in mind that possession of narcotics carries serious criminal penalties in most countries, ranging from a small monetary fine, to the extreme sentence of capital punishment.
There's also a lot more to the illegality of drugs than the final act of the consumer, in purchasing and using them. By consuming drugs, you are supporting and contributing to the largest form of organised crime in the world. Drug users are in effect giving their endorsement to the entire illegal chain that constitutes the global narcotic enterprise, from cultivation and processing, to trafficking, to dealing on the street.
The mafia groups responsible for the global drug business, also routinely commit other crimes, most notably homicide, kidnapping, torture, extortion, embezzlement, and bribery. These other crimes exist in synergy with the drug enterprise: one criminal activity supports the others, and vice versa. Whether or not you believe drug use should be a crime, the fact is that drug use indirectly results in many other activities, of whose criminal nature there can be no doubt.
4. They harm communities and environments
Related to (although separate from) the illegality issue above, there is also a bigger picture regarding the harm that's caused by drug use. Many hobbies have some negative impact on the wider world. Hunting whales endangers a species; buying Nike shoes promotes child labour; flying to Hawaii produces carbon emissions. However, the wider harm caused by drug use, compared to other more benign hobbies, is very great indeed.
Most narcotics are grown and produced in third world countries. The farmers and labourers who produce them, at the "bottom of the chain", do so often under threat of death, often for little monetary gain, and often at risk of pursuit by authorities. Meanwhile, the drug barons at the "top of the chain" routinely bribe authorities, extort those below them, and reap enormous profit from all involved.
In many drug-producing countries, wilderness areas such as rainforests are destroyed in order to cultivate more illegal crops. Thus, narcotics are responsible for environmental problems such as deforestation, and often with subsequent side-effects of deforestation such as soil erosion, salinity, and species extinction.
The drug industry routinely attracts poor and uneducated people who are desperate for work opportunities. However, it ultimately provides these people with little monetary gain and no economic security. Additionally, youths in impoverished areas are enticed to take up a criminal life as traffickers, dealers, and middlemen, leaving them and their families with a poor reputation and with many serious risks.
5. They harm friends and family
For anyone who cares about their friends and family — and everyone should, they're the most important thing in all our lives — the negative impact of drug use on loved ones, is possibly the worst of all the ways in which drugs cause harm.
Friends and family have to bear the pain of seeing a drug user suffer and degenerate from the effects of prolonged use. It is also they who end up caring for the drug user, which is a task possibly even more difficult than the care of a seriously ill friend or relative usually is.
Worst of all, drugs can lead people to steal from, lie to, verbally abuse, and even physically attack friends and family. Then there is the ultimate woe: the pain of drug abuse claiming the life of a close friend or relative. The harm to a drug user ends at the final hour; but for friends and family, the suffering and grief continue for many long years.
As I said, I'm not a drug user myself. I've only taken illicit drugs once in my life (hallucinogens), several years ago. I admit, it was a very fun experience. However, in retrospect, taking the drugs was also clearly a stupid decision. At the time, I was not thinking about any of the things that I've discussed in this article.
I regret very few things in my life, but I regret the choice that I made that day. I feel fortunate that the drugs left me with no addiction and with no long-term harm, and I have no intention whatsoever of taking drugs again in my life.
Yes, drugs are fun. But the consequences of taking them are not. As discussed here, the consequences are dead serious and they are quite real. I remain a libertarian, as far as drugs go — if you want to consume them, I see no reason to stop you. But seriously, think twice before deciding to take that route.
This article is dedicated to the memory of Josh Gerber, one of my best friends for many years, and the tragic victim of a drug overdose in May 2011. Chef of the highest calibre, connoisseur of fine music, always able to make me laugh, a critical thinker and a person of refined wit. May he be remembered for how he lived, not for how he died.