In response to the tragic situations brought about by drug abuse, many causes have been suggested: poverty, feelings of hopelessness, unemployment, ignorance, thrill seeking. “Bit PhRMA,” over prescribing by physicians and more are all considered to play a part in today’s drug crisis.
Yet, I suspect that there is something else, something that is so prevalent in our American way of life that we no longer see it as a problem That is our desire for immediate gratification, which contributes to drug abuse. We want to feel good and have the good things in life immediately without enduring any discomfort.
In 2007, I wrote a column, “Never waiting for what we want leads to problems,” even before the seriousness of our substance abuse issues were fully understood. That column was prompted by an iPhone ad that stated in big bold print, “Waiting is so last week.”
We are a society that is impatient for everything. We do not save money for the future regardless of whether money is tight or adequate. Poor people end up forfeiting their partially paid-for possessions and some rich people declare bankruptcy and let others suffer the fallout.
Commercials for vehicles advertise, “no credit, no problem.” Budgeting is “outdated.” It is what parents and grandparents might have done. As a child, I recall my parents wanting to buy a house. The money just wasn’t there, so we lived in many small unfashionable apartments for six years until there were funds for a down payment. Do people still do such things today?
These thoughts bring me back to my hypothesis about instant gratification and substance abuse. Prohibition clearly didn’t work, so alcohol was legalized and became part of the American social and economic fabric. Alcohol traditionally offered an “escape” from life’s everyday stresses, even though more problems followed heaving drinking. Our country has learned to adapt to drunken driving deaths, broken families, violent behavior and health problems because these problems rarely come in big batches or lead to immediate deaths.
But in the past decade, alcoholism has taken a back seat to pills, which promised to do away with physical aches and all other painful situations. What few people, including physicians, realized initially was that these pills would addict more swiftly and deadly than any liquor had before.
When the easy and constant supply of pain pills finally dried up, the heroin and drug dealers were waiting in the wings. So now the addiction and overdoses from pain pills have been supplanted by even more astonishingly large numbers of overdoes and deaths from lethal street drugs.
We seek immediate gratification. We want high paying jobs and homes that have every convenience, but do not want to suffer through years of schooling and training that is necessary for those good jobs. We want to feel good physically, but choose to not eat in a healthy fashion, exercise or seek appropriate medical care. We get frustrated easily with our family, neighbors, jobs, bosses or those who drive too slowly.
Looking for a quick way to feel very good works for the moment, but as with drug abuse, the joy is fleeting and many lives are damaged instantly.
Unless we Americans become a society that values future planning and can again learn to delay gratification, we are likely to see our drug culture continue to ruin lives.
Drugs themselves are physically addictive, but they are also culturally addictive in a society that wants to feel good at all times without doing any of the heavy lifting.
[Diane W. Mufson is a retired psychologist. She writes a weekly column for the Huntington, WV Herald-Dispatch. We share this article which first appeared in the Herald-Dispatch with her permission. Ms Mufson’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org.]