I’ve got a confession to make. At the ripe old age of 30, I can proudly say that I’ve never taken any illicit drug.
Never smoked weed. Never done ecstasy. Never touched salvia or bath salts or even knowingly taken a high-powered, behind-the-counter pharmaceutical stronger than Phenergan.
Furthermore, I haven’t had a sip of alcohol – in any manifestation – since the year 2009.
Almost instinctively, people ask me the same question when I tell them that: “is it against your religion or something?”
Alas, as a proud, non-practicing atheist, such is not the case. And despite my predilection for straight-edge bands like Minor Threat, nor can I say that my voluntary chemical abstinence is meant to be any kind of sociopolitical stand. Rather, I don’t drink or do drugs because, frankly, the only kind of people who do either habitually nowadays are the absolute most BORING individuals you’d ever have the misfortune of meeting.
There are a lot of people out there who drink responsibly. Certainly, there are people out there who enjoy the occasional puff of Chiba and never let it consume their lives, the same way there are people out there who use pain medications for legitimate injuries and take great measures to avoid developing physiological (and mental) addiction.
But from my own experiences in high school and college, I’ve realized that the extent of drug dependency among millennials is WAY bigger than most people assume. When I say “drug dependency,” I don’t just mean people who have some sort of neuro-physical addiction to whatever drugs they are using (even though there is A LOT of that, too), I mean there are thousands – maybe even millions – of 18-34 year-olds out there who just can’t function in day-to-day life without pounding down some kind of drug, be it an illegal substance, alcohol or pharmaceutical. Forget calling us “Generation Y” – considering how prevalent drug use is among the cohort, “Generation Rx” is a much more fitting title.
You see, kids today don’t drink or do drugs to get high like their parents. Rather, Millennials tend to use alcohol, pills and the illegal stuff to get “normal.” They are an entire generation weaned on chemical solutions; they took Ritalin for ADD in elementary school and antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds in middle school. By the time they reached the ninth grade, they had already legally taken more uppers and downers than the average stoner used throughout the entirety of the 1970s. Our entire lives, we’ve been told that no matter what problems we face, we can solve it by taking a single pill. Remember that for later.
The really big problem is that when they start experimenting with weed and alcohol and some of the lower-level party drugs, they are still using a lot of psychotropic prescription medications. As you’d imagine, the combination of heavy-duty antidepressants and anti-anxiety pills with a ton of alcohol, ecstasy and most terrifyingly of all, harder pain medications, doesn’t exactly do wonders for cognitive development. Scientific study after scientific study after scientific study makes it loud and clear – if you are under the age of 25 and you are doing heavy drinking and drugging (and especially both), you’re doing irreversible damage to your ability to think, your basic motor functions and even form the neurological safeguards that prevent serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia.
And although this is mere, unscientific conjecture on my part, I’d surmise that it also prevents you from developing a personality, too.
Virtually every pothead over the age of 25 – that critical impasse where the last part of your brain, the prefrontal cortex, fully develops – that I have met is has the exact same temperament. The same can be said of every daily drinker, pill-popper and club-drug user, too. Having conversations with them is like watching ice cubes melt on a tepid, cloudy afternoon – so laborious, so predictable, so … uninteresting. They are either in a state of hectic frustration – perhaps with a few needlessly extravagant flare-ups over the most mundane of matters thrown in for good measure – or slowed and dulled to the point that talking to plastic fruit seems more productive. They NEVER seem to have profound, or even halfway compelling, opinions on anything. Seemingly the only thing that evokes any sort of nuanced emotion from them concerns whatever their favorite chemical good is, or its paraphernalia. Not unlike those crazy hellfire and brimstone preachers out in the Midwest, their lives revolve around one thing, and one thing only – getting their hands on whatever drug they enjoy, getting it in their system and grooving on it. The other 99.9998 percent of their lives, they pretty much consider just background noise.
None of this keeps them from having a relatively normal life. They go to work, they go to school, they sit in traffic, they pay taxes. But seemingly the only thing that excites them, the only thing that gives them any sort of emotional consistency or continuity, is getting drunk, getting high, or getting numbed. They may be “functional” alcoholics and substance users and pill heads, but that doesn’t make them any more pleasant to be around, their camaraderie any more stimulating or their personalities any more appealing.
And remember: these are the people whose drinking and drugging ISN’T destroying their lives – just people who infrequently or semi-regularly engage in said activities because they believe it “evens” them out. As bad as the quasi-habitual users who have their stuff together are, I suppose you can imagine how much worse it is being stuck around a full-blown alcoholic or drug addict.
But it’s not just that Gen Y kids are smoking large quantities of (irony much?) genetically modified marijuana too potent even for Katt Williams that research indicates is powerful enough to trigger virtually instant mental illness. Nor is it the fact that millennials are getting trashed day in and day out on crappy (but surprisingly alcohol heavy) wine and craft beer, all the while mixing their brews of choice with volatile antidepressant and anti-anxiety meds (a time-tested, scientifically-proven cocktail for disaster, naturally.) It’s more the fact that way, WAY too many young adults than you’d like to think about honestly believe they cannot function in society without their precious chemical consumer goods coursing through their bloodstream.
When I was in college, I was absolutely flabbergasted by just how many students said they HAD to use “study drugs” like Ritalin to do their homework. The mere idea of turning off their laptops and actually interacting with paper and an ink pen, apparently, was a fundamentally impossible task that could only be facilitated by an influx of lab-modified hormones that, temporarily, gave them the super power of “a normal attention span” just long enough for them to cram for mid-terms. Another thing that utterly astounded me with its university “normalcy” was the proliferation of “lean” – basically, a makeshift cocktail of fruity soda or tea with huge quantities of cough syrup. Other popular social pastimes included “triple C-ing,” the act of ingesting entire boxes of sinus flu medication for a cheap and easy high, and “fishbowl parties,” in which kids dumped whatever prescription ADHD, anxiety and depression meds in a bucket and partygoers just casually scooped out a handful of mystery pills like they were bobbing for apples. I even had the luxury of meeting one girl – who couldn’t have been old enough to buy beer over the counter yet – CHUG an entire bottle of hand sanitizer because the keg just tapped out.
Remember, folks, these aren’t just 17 and 18 year-old lunkheads doing this kind of stuff. We’re also talking about people in their late 20s and God-help-us, even their early 30s, engaged in such activities.
I’ve known these people. I’ve lived with them, I’ve dated them, I’ve worked with them. And across the board, they are the most insufferable, unenjoyable conversational partners I’ve ever had the displeasure of meeting. Even when they aren’t snorting cocaine at the office, shooting up tranquilizers in the bathroom and scream-crying at the moon in a combination Xanax and Yuengling stupor (all three of which I’ve seen with my own two eyes, regrettably), they are just the whiniest, self-absorbed self-victimizers on the planet. They wrap themselves up in their miseries, more than happy to publicize whatever interpersonal trauma they’re going through to whoever will listen. They practically worship their “troubles” – their anxiety, their depression, their inability to pay attention for more than five seconds to anything – like elder spirits, and talk about their recreational and pharmacological drug use like they were some sort of sacrosanct rituals. Not only do they embrace their substance use as a part of their identity, they proudly display it as one of the utmost qualifiers of their being. At least heroin addicts and hardcore pain pill junkies at least try to cover up their usage; meanwhile, ecstasy, pot and alcohol enthusiasts gleefully promote their behaviors, their collective “drug cultures” and personal fondness of and\or allegiance to said substances like street preachers sputtering the gospels to passers by. Outside of championing their drug of choice, these people have precious little to relay to the masses – beyond, of course, celebrating their myriad “problems” that purportedly self-justify their substance use in the first place.
Look, I’ve been down that road. Back in my salad days, I used to get PLASTERED. I’ve had three-day hangovers before and I’ve literally woken up in places having no idea how I got there. Sure, it’s a fun and instantly gratifying lifestyle, but you know what it isn’t? Fulfilling – emotionally, existentially or physically. Eventually, I got to that point in my life where I had to ask the million dollar question: “is my life so terrible that I HAVE to lower my threshold of consciousness to make it through the day?”
That’s how addicts and alcoholics happen. They don’t turn into hopeless drug users BECAUSE it’s fun, but because it’s the only thing that allows them to wake up, face the world and look themselves in the mirror.
Deep down, that’s the same reason why people get drunk at bars and smoke weed and watch SpongeBob in their underwear all day. That’s the same reason people take Valium and Zoloft and Ritalin, and it’s the same reason people use crystal meth and OxyContin. It prevents them from facing the world as it actually is, it inhibits their ability to perceive reality and it separates their brain from their subjective personal experience. Inherently, all people who use drugs of the like are trying to cure something they loathe about themselves – and none of it ever works.
A meaningful life can’t be obtained in pill form. Nor can a decent attitude and insightful worldview be smoked, drank or snorted into existence. The heavy drinkers and drug users have given up on self-discovery and self-fulfillment and self-improvement; rather, they’ve embraced the horrendous mediocrity of their own existences by taking refuge in the short-lived fog of chemical ignorance.
Now, is this an awfully judgmental stance to take? Why, yes, it is. But I’m not apologetic about it. After all, these are people who get their jollies dulling themselves into unthinking, unfeeling, personality-less blobs that register no real emotion other than a longstanding hatred of one’s shortcomings. And as a result? These individuals who go to such great lengths to forget they exist wind up being the most boring, formulaic, predictable and uninteresting people out there.
Perhaps it was the great German existentialist Friedrich Nietzsche who best summed up the intrinsic problem with such people.
“He who thinks a great deal is not suited to be a party man,” he declared in his 1878 magnum opus Human, All Too Human. “He thinks his way through the party and out the other side too soon.”
Those are some sage words, indeed, Mr. Funny Mustache. I, too, think I prefer having a life outside the party than only having one when the pill bottle, beer bong and chillum is around.