The Sixties ushered an era filled with changing moralities and priorities. The biggest questions that come to mind from the era — how and why was the decade so impactful? Many who experienced the decade may acknowledge a confluence of circumstances. Firstly, the USA was a hotbed of protests with college-student ‘sit-ins.’ Secondly, the space-race between the USA and USSR was at a peak. Thirdly, the war in Southeast Asia pitted the USA against Ho Chi Minh’s North Vietnamese who were aided by China and Russia, simultaneously. Fourth, the experimentation of teenagers and young adults with psychedelic drugs and marijuana was at a peak. Fifth, the Civil Rights Movement reached a peak –the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 moved the fulcrum of equality for minorities. Sixth, the environmental movement gathered steam and reached new heights — with Rachel Carson’s publication, Silent Spring.
The confluence of events provided a point where change and opportunity to change by individuals was possible. Whether individuals protested the Vietnam war or against unfair practices against minorities, the decade provided an opportunity to anyone who utilized their conscience for change.
However, areas of concern lay in the ease of illicit drug use. As if the US citizen did not have enough to manage on his proverbial dinner plate, beleaguered parents fretted over their own children falling prey to drug addiction. For those who recall the era, outrage and consternation from parts of the government seemed excessive. However, hindsight tells a different story.
Of all teens who start down the path of beer, cigarettes and marijuana –the vast majority do not die a miserable death from heroin overdoses. In fact, the percentage who travel down the path is about the size that lead lives of crime- sadly so.
Addictions can prove deadly. Whether it’s cigarettes, alcohol, intravenous drug use, or opioids, addictions seem to affect a random cross-section of population. When we look at this phenomenon, we also see individuals who appear to be more affected by mental illness. What does this mean?
A generation or two ago, policy makers attempted to explain this phenomenon as a gateway affect. It sounded a bit like this–teenagers with still-developing brains or anyone who becomes addicted to drugs started with introductory drug. The introductory drug was a gateway drug. Over the years, doctors and epidemiologists debated whether the gateway effect existed. In fact, the gateway was associated with alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes, and all too often any of a number of devices that blamed societal ills.
To a cynical or a skeptical observer, such pronouncements from the experts came across as dubious. And, the observers were correct. The latest research offers the more accurate explanation: there is a certain subsection of the world population that is more susceptible to addiction and mental illness than others. It is a product of genetics and the interactions with peers that some individuals are easily drawn to substance abuse.
Gateway drugs affect certain genetic markers that predispose a small section of population to mental health problems. In fact, the gateway concept was formulated as such, it applies to a rather few unlucky souls. No one knew how genetics played in such negative ways with environment. These individuals possess genetic markers that predispose them to addiction and some other mental health problems. Psychologists and other mental health experts term this issue – mal-adaptive way to handle a crisis.
Just take one case in point, we have a healthy child came out of the womb healthy. Here he is -three, five, or even seven years of age. He is subjected to the stress of child abuse. This unlucky person or soul say, tried to adapt to the stress with the only tools and made available to him or her. Now, this child learns to adapt in his or her immediate environment and that was that. However, with the child reaches maybe 20 maybe 18 maybe later only in the mid 20s, he chooses to use cigarettes, gambling, alcohol, or some drug of his choice. He may be a criminal that has serious mental health issues if his genetic markers deem as such. This individual, now branded a loser by parts of society, has to sustain the weight of abuse they he could not as a child. In present instances, this is termed PTSD. While it seems almost absurd to some – there are actual medical cases in which it has occurred. There are so many instances like it, and it is a diagnosis in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual for physicians.
This line of reasoning has been apart of the public discourse since the 1960s. It comes across as liberal mumbo-jumbo or just plain bad science to some. However, to others, the scenario comes across as a failure of society to address its own accountability. And, in some ways, all scenarios are correct. The reason is that the cycle continues. People (good people) are impacted from a greater societal ill. We, as a people, need to aid the abused.
How do we address that the issue behind addiction criminality and mental health? It is a true health issue. Not just a mental health issue–given the propensity that any almost anyone can fall victim crime, we need a kinder approach to ourselves. This is not a platitude, but it is one approach that honors the human and does not impose upon him. I’m not asking we all undergo psychotherapy or some kind of genetic enhancement to remove the likelihood of addiction. The best approach is to rebuild how we approach one another. It is the ultimate message behind Christmas, itself.
We need turn away from the culture of hate and turn into a culture of respect and dignity. That’s the first step.