Working with young people means working with substance use. This doesn’t mean that I expect every young person I encounter to be using drugs. It does mean though that I find it just tends to go with the territory. Most young people are going to be exposed to all sorts of substances and often at times when they are under all the stress, distress and excitement of trying to grow up.
Last week I ran a workshop about drug use for a mixture of young people who are, for various reasons, not living in homes with their families. A totally lovely group of young people. The focus of the workshop was not on drugs at all but on people and why any of us do what we do, what might encourage us to take risks, for better or for worse, and ideas about looking after self and others. And so the following is timely. On the Harm Reduction Journal website
is a review of Alexander Brucek’s book ‘The Globalisation Of Addiction: A Study In Poverty Of The Spirit.’ One of the quotes is this:
“People can endure dislocation for a time. However, severe, prolonged dislocation eventually leads to unbearable despair, shame, emotional anguish, boredom and bewilderment. It regularly precipitates suicide and less direct forms of self-destruction. This is why forced dislocation, in the form of ostracism, excommunication, exile, and solitary confinement, has been a dreaded punishment from ancient times until the present….”
“Material poverty frequently accompanies dislocation, but they are definitely not the same thing. Although material poverty can crush the spirit of isolated individuals and families, it can be borne with dignity by people who face it together as an integrated society. On the other hand, people who have lost their psychosocial integration are demoralized and degraded even if they are not materially poor. Neither food, nor shelter, nor the attainment of wealth can restore them to well-being. Only psychosocial integration itself can do that. In contrast to material poverty, dislocation could be called ‘poverty of the spirit’.”
And here, for someone who is ‘demoralized and degraded’ and experiencing a ‘poverty of the spirit’ is the creation of a receptive audience for dangerous substance use. Which tells me something about where our efforts should be if we are interested in making a real difference to people harming themselves with drugs.