Whenever I’m feeling a bit frustrated with one of my own vices, I like to read about drugs. Now, before you get all high (pun intended) and mighty, I’m not saying it’s an ideal personality trait to be comforted by the struggles of others, but hey, the entire reality television genre is predicated on this kind of schadenfreude.
In a way, what appeals to me about the genre is that drug addiction is an equal-opportunity affliction. Certainly, upbringing and socioeconomic status all play a role in one’s predilection, or lack thereof, for addiction – but at the end of the day, anyone can be an addict. The problem transcends generations, geography and politics (to the extent that anything can).
So I had been looking forward to Nick Reding’s Methland, which I bought after reading Beautiful Boy, a father’s memoir about his son’s addiction to methamphetamine. Here is a drug with which I have no personal experience but, for all intents and purposes, is one of the worst, one of the addictions from which few recover. While Beautiful Boy focused on one family’s experience, Methland promised a broader overview: How it’s produced, where, by whom, and most importantly, the scale of the meth problem and the severity of its fallout.
Well I made it through the weekend without crying on the floor of any bathroom, and finished my addiction memoir to boot. It may or may not have been karma that I read the last 50 pages while nursing a severe hangover on my couch, but a mission accomplished is a mission accomplished.
There’s something I want to say before going into the book itself, which was as heartbreaking and poignant as I expected it to be. Because in order to really, I think, appreciate Beautiful Boy, you have to step back and put the family’s story in context. Not the context of addiction itself, though that too is important, but the context of being young, of being at an age where drugs aren’t hard to come by and more importantly, aren’t unusual to do.
See, in my opinion at least, there is a pervasive sentiment among teenagers and 20-somethings that the majority of drugs are basically okay. This isn’t, as adults like to believe, simply a product of drug use at some point in youth becoming “cool,” nor is preventing drug use simply a matter of eliminating or tampering peer pressure. Many teenagers do drugs for the same reason addicts do—because they want to get high. Marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, mushrooms, acid—I could tell many of my friends that I had done any of the above without raising eyebrows. And I’m not saying there aren’t exceptions. Heroin, crack and meth (the latter is the focal point of Beautiful Boy) are the triumvirate of what I’d consider untouchables, but that’s three out of many. It stands to reason that cultural acceptance (however age-based) of the many is likely to make the few seem decidedly less unsafe.
It’s problematic, to say the least. I don’t know why, or when, drugs cease to become a real threat (which isn’t to say that people don’t develop addiction later in life). It may be a physical change; it may be a mental one; maybe it simply becomes unfathomable to call up a drug dealer past the age of 35. But what’s important is that between, say, ages 15 and 25, the ten years during which drugs seem most prevalent, they are also the least frowned-upon.