Sneaking meth addicts

Intoxication and drugs

As long as humans populate this planet, drugs of various kinds are used. Cultural history bears witness to this in a more or less chatty way: mead and beer, hemp and opium, peyote and mescaline, tobacco, myrrh, frankincense, coffee, tea, betel, khat, herb or coca leaves - to name just a few - have fascinated people since they followed any concept of enjoyment. Sometimes drugs are a sacred medium of religious awakening, sometimes a means of a carnivalesque revaluation of all values. Sometimes they provide a collective, ecstatic creation of meaning, sometimes they serve to make everyday troubles more bearable: Substances that do more than quench hunger and drive thirst are firmly built into the cultural heritage of humanity.

Today, however, this multitude of means and motives for consumption is often reduced and, instead, a link between drug use and danger is suggested. The political problematization of psychotropic substances began in the early modern period: At the beginning of the 17th century, the Ottoman Sultan Murad IV found it unbearable that tobacco and coffee houses were not only places of consumption, but also centers of public discussion and thus places of criticism and Had become opposition. Therefore, in 1633 he had all tobacco houses torn down and punished tobacco smoking with the death penalty. In the search he used modern methods, such as undercover investigations and sham buying. The property of the executed went to the Sultan. [1] Obviously it was less about the drug itself; Rather, the smoking ban fulfilled several useful functions at the same time: the criminalization of behavior that was widespread, and sanctioning within the framework of - or under the pretext - of drug control.

However, drinking and smoking bans were rare until the 19th century. Since then, however, drug and danger have moved closer and closer together, conveyed for example by the idea that all drugs inevitably lead to addiction and thus to ruin. Whenever there is talk of drugs or even of "narcotics" at present, the danger does not seem far. The scientifically difficult to maintain but long-lasting talk of entry-level drugs is proof of this - in fact, there is no reliable empirical evidence that would show that the consumption of one drug often leads to the next and thus deeper into the drug problem. Anyone who argues this way has an eye on the crooked path, the crash, which - for everyone who has started once - can only be avoided with a lot of effort or not at all. At times, drug education in schools may have taken new, meaningful paths. The real and urgent reason for their necessity, however, usually remains central: the danger.

The history of drug use is diverse, however, and its wide-ranging practices have only mediated, sequentially or partially to do with addiction and social decline. In addition: whenever people fall out of the social order, drugs have been a catalyst in the worst case, but rarely or never the real reason. The recalcitrant reference to drugs as the cause of social imbalances therefore has the character of a handy and long-practiced diversionary maneuver: Those who hold drugs accountable do not have to talk about structural social imbalances.

Therefore, it may be time to turn your gaze and look at the many and varied motivations for drug use. After all, the drug thing is kind of a never-ending story, despite all the crusades and horrific expense in the so-called was on drugs. The following lines bring together - of course without claiming to be exhaustive - a number of different reasons why people use or have used drugs. A kaleidoscope of different episodes unfolds, the collection of which alone could make clear how shortened the direct link between drugs, addiction and danger is in its contemporary form. Viewed from this direction, i.e. detached from the much overlapping problem perception, a different connection or at least an initial suspicion emerges: which drugs are fashion and how states and societies deal with them could be an expression of the respective social conditions.

Of course, this does not mean that drugs cannot tear abysses, that certain patterns of consumption sometimes lead to habits and harm your health in the medium to long term. However, this is only one path among many, just one possible pattern that also has to do with social and economic exclusion and political repression of youth cultures. The drug is just one factor. The almost exclusive look at the practice of addiction and the social figure of the junkie, however, has brought the entire topic of drugs and intoxication into disrepute and has led to a sometimes bizarre practice of prohibition.


The illustrious journey through the thicket of different drug consumption reasons has innumerable possible beginnings and stations. The following passages of intoxicated transgression are not representative of anything, they just show that different interpretations are possible. An arbitrary, but interesting starting point is provided by a circular from the Paris Faculty of Theology from 1444, which provides what today is an irritating motivation for occasional but copious drinking. There it says that “folly” is the innate “second nature” of man, and “wine barrels burst if you don't open the lid from time to time and let air in. We, the people, are poorly made wine barrels, those made with wine burst of wisdom, if it is left in uninterrupted ferment of devotion and fear of God. Therefore, on certain days we allow the folly (folly) in us that we then return to worship with all the greater zeal. "[2]

The regular drinking bouts were therefore doubly necessary: ​​On the one hand, they corresponded to human nature and, on the other hand, were indispensable in order to live God-righteously and to be able to pursue wisdom. The drunken festival, which counteracts all contemplation and fear of God, thus belonged to the religious order here. The tradition of the festival, which is significant in terms of cultural history, that is, a "time between times", has its last offshoots in today's carnival. However, there is little to suggest that there is still much left of the radical nature of the revaluation, of the nature of the substantial time-out.

A little more than a century later, the court marshal Hans von Schweinichen, of whom diary entries have been passed down, were similarly drunk, but for completely different reasons. He too was inclined to the "tears of God" (Lacrimae Christi) [3]. He was so full that he "slept two nights and two days in a row afterwards that one didn't mean anything else than I was going to die". However, this did not cause him to turn away from the wine. Quite the opposite: "And since then I have learned to drink wine and then continued it so strongly that I might say that it would be impossible for someone to drink me. But whether it is enough for my bliss and health, I ask his Place. "[4]

Of course, one can only speculate about Schweinichen's motives. It hardly sounds like a necessity of nature, a ritualized festivity or even a condition for religious wisdom. Rather, a kind of sporting competition without any deeper meaning dominates, as it is still often encountered today.

"Without any harm"

While von Schweinichen described a social structure that apparently required its adaptation to alcohol, similar processes have also been handed down with regard to health aspects. Zedler's universal lexicon, for example, a kind of knowledge repository of the 18th century, revealed that "opium can be used in a fair amount without any harm to great advantage". It is a well-known fact that opium users "cannot get away from it", that they cannot leave it and, according to modern diction, become addicted. However, this is not a problem, exactly the other way around: "Because if you are used to poisonous things for a long time, they do no harm to nature." [5] The purpose of consuming opium here is therefore to develop a habit to henceforth medical and to be able to skim off the emotional benefits of the material without harm. Modern addiction research is sure to put hands over head in horror. From a medical point of view, however, it is also known that opiates, appropriately dosed and consumed cleanly, trigger what we now call addiction, but hardly cause any physiological or psychological damage, provided that social life works all around.

At this point, of course, the line between drug and drug becomes blurred. Strictly speaking, this limit is only contoured one way or another based on different consumption motives. Almost all drugs were or are also medication - so it depends on the area of ​​application and the reason for ingestion. Opiates, for example, which are known to include heroin, have long been and are still important substances in medicine.

How historically different motives, practices and their classification as a (drug) problem are, is also shown in a letter to the editor that an elderly woman sent to the journal "The Chemist and Druggist" in 1888. It says: "I have been using morphine regularly for 30 years. (...) This medicine, which is harmful in most cases, has in no way harmed my vitality. It has still reduced my liveliness to any degree, which is very similar to young women , although I am now 67. My zest for life is excellent, I am neither as emaciated nor emaciated as most of the others who have received this treatment. (…) The only evil that probably stems from this medicine is that I am I would be extremely grateful if one of your experts would be kind enough to inform me whether my increase in adipose tissue is a natural result of morphine consumption. "[6]

For medical reasons, the author of these lines had gotten into an opium habit that today would get the label severely dependent. At the same time, there is some evidence that the image of the typical addict ("neither as emaciated nor emaciated as most of the others") was (and is) more of a media bogeyman than a real experience or observation. Ultimately, it cannot be explained what the woman is referring to. But the addiction debate that emerged at the end of the 19th century was borne by stereotypes and exaggerated figures, [7] which correspond almost exactly to what women produce as a typical image of the junkie. And if there is an undisputed causal relationship between opiates, it is that they curb the appetite and can hardly be responsible for obesity tendencies.

The letter to the editor shows two things very clearly: On the one hand, it becomes clear how a modern addiction story creeps in and begins to reassess things. The author was still completely arrested in Victorian England, which had little fear of contact when it came to opium. At the same time, however, she was already aware of the new times of the escalating problematization of drugs - if only to differentiate herself from them. On the other hand, the source also shows that addiction debates, with their typical generality and their focus on the compulsive nature of consumption, are to a certain extent blind or at least less receptive to the motives. The same consumption practice, i.e. regular and high doses, can have many different reasons.

Between enlightenment and rebellion

Another spectrum of motives for drug use unfolds around attempts to raise awareness of psychotropic substances. While the medieval circular emphasized that wine-blissful folly only provides the balance in order to strive for wisdom at all other times, the direct connection between drugs and knowledge has a long history. The ancient Greek symposium (Latin: symposium) stands for sociable drinking in community, as a result of which profound and perhaps philosophical conversations with gain in knowledge arise. The term has survived in the world of science, even if today's editions shine rather with sobriety. The fact that there are always "symposia" on alcohol addiction is probably an unwanted punch line.

Newer versions of the link between drug and knowledge focus less on social situations than on individual experiences. We owe this in good part to the romantic conquest of drugs in the first half of the 19th century. [8] Thomas De Quincey, for example - one of the first modern writers to literarily negotiate the knowledge and abysses of intoxication - spoke in the middle of the 19th century of memory as a "palimpsest", i.e. a rewritable parchment that still bears all the older traces. Opium exposes these traces and therefore allows deep, otherwise hidden memories: "From life a shroud of oblivion had been spread over every detail of the experience. And now, on silent command, at a rocket signal that our brains let go of, this cloth is abruptly removed. and the whole theater lies bare to its depths before our gaze. This was the greatest mystery. And it is a mystery that rules out doubt - for the martyrs of opium it repeats itself, it repeats itself in the intoxication ten thousand times. "[9 ]

Since then there have been many variants of profound, comprehensive, absolute, paradisiacal and constantly earth-shattering insights in intoxication. The writer Charles Baudelaire stepped completely out of the only subjective position and became the pipe that he smokes, only to get to know the false paradise afterwards. [10] His colleague Fitz Hugh Ludlow was able to "look inside himself and, thanks to this terrible ability, perceive very vividly and clearly all life processes that normally take place unconsciously". [11] The philosopher William James did not experience childhood like De Quincey, but the truth was straightforward: "For me, as for every other person I have heard of, the essence of the experience [of intoxication] is the unbelievably exciting feeling a haunting metaphysical enlightenment. " "All logical relationships of being" were revealed on nitrous oxide. [12]

The journey continues via the philosopher of life Ludwig Klages, [13] who intoxicated and experiences eternity in a moment, to the philosopher Walter Benjamin, who differently - and smarter than the others - turns the tables and in the intoxication recognizes the emptiness or the absence of truth , [14] through the writer Carlos Castaneda and to the self-proclaimed leader of the psychedelic movement of the 1960s, Timothy Leary, who wanted to give LSD to as many people as possible. The motive for drug use is the knowledge, the hope, to unravel the secret of life, the world or even the universe once and for all. Cultural history is full of attempts to make a Faustian pact with the devil in order to finally understand.

Sometimes knowledge should be followed by action. Some who had seen "the truth" or believed they had seen it wanted to use it in a revolutionary way and use fabrics to wake up another society. Leary, for example, was of the opinion that the cybernetic-biological evidence, i.e. the unmediated truth of the DNA, which LSD supposedly inevitably and indisputably calls to mind, must inevitably lead to people shedding the ridiculous mask of the subject and inevitably overcoming capitalism . "Turn on, tune in, drop out" was the corresponding motto of the psychedelic revolution - but it did not materialize. And the poet Allen Ginsberg, a beat - hipster - from the very beginning, explained to his beat colleague Jack Kerouac on the phone: "I am high and naked and I am the king of the universe" in order to then instigate the psychedelic overthrow . [15]

The threatened rebellion was not always preceded by total insight. Sometimes drug use was and is, even without a deeper layer, a more or less rebellious rejection of the norms of society, of the status quo, combined with the attempt to expand the scope for freedom. The writer William S. Burroughs and the aforementioned Beats, for example, used drugs as a provocation, as an antithesis and as a means to break the puritan straitjacket of the homophobic McCarthy era of the 1950s. And after the intoxicated euphoria of the 1960s, the motif of enlightenment took a back seat anyway. Punk became the new antithesis: a rebellion without a revolution - but with drugs. So drug use can simply be motivated to distance oneself from the parents' generation and say no! to emphasize the boredom of the bourgeois life with a thick bag. Even the rave and techno movement of the 1990s had such elements of rebellion, if only because older semesters did not want to understand what this "endlessly booming music" was about. Once again, a youth culture spread that wanted to cheat parents and be different, including drug use.

Optimize yourselves!

Intoxicated insights were booming - at present they have rather withdrawn into scattered esoteric circles. And since the "new spirit of capitalism" made rebellion a mode of accumulation, that is, the creative class became the driving force of capital, [16] it is no longer so easy to upset parents with drug use. Rather, a whole spectrum of adapted consumption motives has established itself; Optimization is the new trend.

In the late modern era, a different place or a different, functional contour emerged for drug consumption, which nonetheless remained constantly controversial. Since the 1990s, "avant-garde perspectives have been developing that deal with completely new types and dynamics of controlled pleasure generation and functional enjoyment". [17] In keeping with the neoliberal zeitgeist, in the context of which the individual and sometimes their intoxication became a resource, a pragmatic and purposeful use of drugs shimmers through. This means that consumption motives are also shifting. Drugs, which are an everyday part of society in the form of alcohol, coffee, cigarettes or medication, could - so the quiet hope - be de-ideologized. This is promoted above all by the aforementioned "spirit of capitalism", which elevates flexibility and creativity to the highest economic good. The distinction between medication and drug is becoming completely fragile, and the motives for consumption are as varied as they are adapted with the new commodity form of the drug. The flexibility of the norms promotes drug use and intoxication in the foreseeable future out of the patterns of deviant behavior and into a space of flexible normality. The flexible person has to learn new rules for dealing with himself and the world and, last but not least, with dealing with his self-control: He just has to be careful to keep a "reflexive distance". [18]

Subject, substance, society

The varied picture drawn here of motives or reasons for drug use is truly not complete. Other topics would be: Drugs for the purpose of military disinhibition - such as pervitin, a metamphetamine that was used en masse by Wehrmacht soldiers during World War II to reduce feelings of fear and increase performance -, drugs to displace socio-psychological ballast, drugs to speed things up To be able to keep the pace of the present and the beat, or drugs against the boredom of everyday life. On closer inspection, the different categories become blurred: leisure and work, controlled consumption and addiction, hard and soft drugs, or medication and drug. Neither of these couples remains a real contrast in the long run.

The triangle of subject, substance and society, with the help of which the Swiss historian Jakob Tanner tried to capture the history of knowledge of the addiction concept in the 20th century and to detach it from the clutches of medical self-certainties, [19] also goes a long way when it comes to the reasons for Drug use and its analysis is about. Subjective dispositions and constellations are always involved, as well as stimuli from the drug. Even if society is less talked about at present, society continues to play a decisive role, and does so on several levels: What legal status and what moral connotation do drugs have at what time? Are opiates considered as home remedies for free or as hellish stuff that inevitably leads to addiction and crash? Or is drug use falling into the clutches of political aspirations or even movements? Do they have the label of the rebellious, or do they have a reputation for having irrefutable and earth-shattering truths ready? Is smoking weed useful to initiate the adolescent row with the parents, or do the parents like to pick up the bag themselves?

Undoubtedly, motives often mix, the reality of drug use makes it difficult to decipher things properly. And often enough, consumers themselves do not know exactly why they are taking something. And yet it should have become clear that the concatenation of drugs, danger and addiction does not stand up to a historical perspective. The strong focus on the problem of drugs sometimes gives the impression of being a diversionary or evasive maneuver. Occasionally, drugs of the general order became quite dangerous, for example in the context of the counterculture of the 1960s. This led to a violent surge of lurid anti-drug propaganda, which pushed the dangers to the fore with all its might and had no inhibitions in spreading lies (for example regarding alleged chromosome damage caused by LSD).

A kind of phenomenology of different motives and practices is therefore an important thing. Especially when the role of society in the triangle with subject and substance is taken into account. The whole topic of drugs and drug consumption could ultimately serve as a kind of seismograph for different social conditions. According to a somewhat worn adage, every society has the fashion drug it deserves. This line of sight could provide a whole panorama of interpretations. While the usual search for the influence of drugs on society is (for example: "What does crystal meth do to people?"), It would be interesting to ask what influence society has on drugs, i.e. which drugs are accumulated when, for what purpose and for what social or political reasons they are used. The much-discussed opioid crisis in the US may then appear as an expression of a severely depressing time that can be better endured with sedatives. Quick coke for top performance or grass for more creativity are then no longer the means of choice, but the pain-relieving opioid oxycodone or the anti-anxiety benzodiazepine Xanax to endure the madness of late capitalism or at least the everywhere noticeable transformation pains of a society in transition.

This text is a revised and expanded version of the article "Remember, forget, adapt, break out: drug consumption and its motives", which appeared in the addiction magazine 3/2020 (