This Post is Bad for You. Don’t Read it.

Really bummed about Philip Seymour Hoffman. Like, in tears bummed. One of the actors I would go out of my way to catch even in bit parts is gone. I saw PATCH ADAMS on the big screen and BOOGIE NIGHTS on the little screen in the same year, and I remember being floored by this talent, this guy who dared yell at my beloved Robin Williams, but do so with such authenticity and zeal that I was like, “Yeah, Robin, chillax, man.” Which probably wasn’t the point of the scene, but Hoffman was fond of stealing them. He didn’t care. He was just too damn talented. I can imagine directors yelling “cut” and shaking their heads and asking Phillip to do it one more time, but not quite so good. “You’re supposed to be unlikable,” they would say. Or: “You’re the supporting actor. Stop hurt everyone’s feelings by making this look easy.”

The last time I felt this sense of loss for a young actor, we were losing Heath Ledger, also to an accidental overdose. (Yeah, 46 is young. To me, anyway.) And maybe it’s wrong to get angry at drugs when this stuff happens, maybe it’s too soon, maybe we’re supposed to grieve for a few weeks or months before we look back and get pissed at the needle or the pill, but I’m all jetlagged and upset, and dammit I need something to blame other than the man we just lost.

I find few things sadder than addiction. Poisoning oneself in an attempt at happiness? What’s sadder than that? I had to watch FLIGHT twice, painful both times, just to appreciate how brilliantly that film portrayed the tragedy of addiction. And poor Jesse Pinkman. Yeah, I finally caught the last two seasons of BREAKING BAD. And every damn time he’d kick the habit and then use again, I wanted to strangle him through the screen.

This is the part where I get in trouble, so stop reading right now.

I don’t know if I’d be strong enough to do this if I had kids (it’s easy to give parenting advice to the world when you don’t have any of your own), but I think we’re going about the whole drug thing in the wrong way, and I think it’s getting people killed. Again, it’s probably poor form to make this about drugs so soon after Hoffman’s death, but that same reluctance to tackle this issue, to be honest about it all, does real harm. I can’t be pissed at the man who slid into addiction. Practically no one is stronger than the allure of such cheap happiness. I’m angry. And I think we could do a better job. But it would mean losing the bullshit.

Because that’s the way we talk about drugs with our youth today: We bullshit them. And they know it. “Drugs are bad for you,” we say. “Drugs are horrible.” This invariably comes a decade or so after we’ve taught them we’re full of crap with that whole Santa thing. They’ve got their lying parents on one side, telling them that alcohol and drugs are horrible, and they’ve got their friends on the other side saying how great that buzz feels, and you’ve gotta try this, it’s the best thing ever, man.

Whom do they believe? The people who lied about the Tooth Fairy? Everything parents say is no good — from sweets, to staying up late, to the joys of small explosions — kids quickly find out they like. A lot. We teach them not to trust us. And do their friends ever lie to them? Not about stuff like this.

“Mom and Dad are trying to keep us from being happy, aren’t they?” they think. “Trying to keep all the joy in the world to themselves. Alcohol is bad, but Dad gets to crack a few after work, doesn’t he? I watch him smack his lips and sigh and smile like nothing else makes him smile. He’s always laughing with his friends when they watch the game and have a few drinks. Having all that fun. And they tell me smoking is bad, but I catch Aunt Susan puffing away behind the oak at the cookout, bliss leaking from every pore, looking so serene. There’s a pattern here. Anything they tell me not to do, they think I’m not mature enough to handle. They keep all the good stuff to themselves. Here’s my chance to be an adult, to be as mature as my friends. Sure, pass it here. I’ll try that. Let’s see what all the fuss is about.”

Our brilliant plan is to say “just don’t do it.” Meanwhile, their peers, whom they respect and trust far more than their parents, say “just try it a little. You’ll love it.” That’s a tough battle for parents to win. Because we’re lying to them, and they know it. Their friends are telling the truth, and they know it. This pattern has been established over and over.

So what if we came clean with them right from the start? Just be honest. “Drugs are great,” we could tell them, before they hear it from their peers. “You take drugs, and everything feels amazing. Better than you’ve felt from any other thing in your life. That’s why, once you’ve tried drugs, you’ll never want to do anything else. You’ll throw your life away. You’ll live in the streets in a cardboard box smelling like piss, and you won’t care. You see, drugs are so damn good, so delicious, that you’ll never even care about your family again. That’s right. You’ll never care about me or your father. You won’t even care about your friends. Or going to school or having a job. All you’ll care about is how great that high feels, just for a little bit, and you’ll chase that feeling for the rest of your life. You’ll lie, beg, and steal to get it. And you’ll hate every dull moment in between, every moment that you’re not high. You’ll never enjoy anything else quite like you do now, not once you’ve tasted how great that sensation is. And however strong you think you are, nobody is stronger than drugs. They’re so good, they can take down anyone. Look at this list of people who had it all, who were at the top of their game and had all the money in the world. Every one of them died because of how good drugs are. They’d rather die than live sober. And you will too. You’ll want to die. They’ll kill you, they’re so good. All it takes is dipping a toe, and you’ll want to drown.”

What if we told kids the truth? Because then, when someone passes a joint and says, “You’re gonna love this,” the response is, “Oh, I know. I’ve heard that shit is the bomb. But I’d rather not know how good it is. Spoils the rest of your life, you know? Rather not know. But I believe you. Oh yes, I totally believe you.”

For some reason (maybe my parents were honest with me about drugs when I was young), it was how good drugs were that made me never want to try them. I believed my friends. Maybe I didn’t have their lie in my other ear that made me want to see who was being straight with me. All I knew was that drugs were so awesome that anyone who got into them would throw their entire life away in a never ending pursuit, a mad chase for a tail that didn’t exist. I was terrified of drugs. Still am. But not because someone was warning me that they were “bad.” It’s because I didn’t ever want to be beholden to something that was so all-powerfully good.

Kids are smart. Smarter than we give them credit for being. I remember feeling like an adult at age thirteen or fourteen. Like it was nonsense that I couldn’t drive already. These are the bright youngsters we’re trying to fool. Drugs are scary enough for what they are. These substances tap right into the pleasure centers of our brains, and it skews the world, makes everything else not-as-good. They wreck our ability to feel pleasure. Wouldn’t that scare you more than just hearing that drugs are vaguely “bad?”

Is this a dangerous thing to suggest, being honest with our kids? Is it better to absolve ourselves of guilt if they happen to try drugs on their own? Because this is what I suspect we get out of lying to them: At least we told them drugs sucked. We can’t be blamed if they gave it a try. We warned them. Now it’s their fault. Their friends’ faults. We never suggested that drugs would make them feel good, even though we knew. Because if we did suggest that, and then they tried them, we’d feel culpable. Wouldn’t we? So we stick to the lie. And maybe we’re to blame when they test us, when they decide to see whether their friends are telling the truth.

I don’t know. It just sucks. Rest in peace, Phillip. You’ll be missed.

81 responses to “This Post is Bad for You. Don’t Read it.”

  1. Some great thoughts there, Hugh. My parents were always honest with me about drugs; and I could see firsthand what they did to my family. I have never touched drugs. Never smoked a cigarette. Drink occasionally, but never to excess. I find that living life to the fullest makes one feel infinitely better than any drug.

    The death of Mr. Hoffman saddens me greatly, I think because I thought maybe he was one of the smart ones that knew better. Unfortunately being smart has nothing to do with the allure of drugs and how they make you feel. It can happen to anyone. It’s so very heartbreaking.

    Thanks for weighing in on this. Your opinions always have merit!

    1. “I think because I thought maybe he was one of the smart ones that knew better. Unfortunately being smart has nothing to do with the allure of drugs and how they make you feel. It can happen to anyone.”

      That’s what really gets me. The grip is so strong that you want to quit; you hate yourself for using; but there’s no willpower strong enough.

      I battle with depression, and so I know how tempting it might be to think a little of this will make it all right, but drugs just make the valleys deeper and the cost of the next peak steeper. I can handle the lows I have now. I don’t need anything making them more pronounced by comparison.

      1. More power to you Hugh. I know what you are going through; I deal with something similar myself. And I agree 100% The lows are handle-able. The highs make life worth living. Take care, my friend.

      2. Thank you for having the courage to openly discuss your depression. I feel that many feel a stigma still exists, and turn to drugs in a misguided attempt at self-medication.

        A more realistic approach to this nation’s mental health would save lives, through the reduction in addiction issues and preventable suicides.

        Open dialogue is the first important step. Thanks again.

  2. It’s a day later now from hearing that news. I woke up even sadder today. Sometimes you don’t realize how connected you feel to someone who dies (that you’ve never met except through their work) until you hear the bad news.

    Hugh, I like your idea of how to talk straight to young folks about drugs. The lie really doesn’t work.

  3. Love this post.

    I think if my parents had explained drugs and alcohol to me the way you just did that I would have turned out a little differently. I never had a taste of alcohol until college. When I did my freshman year, I went wild like most kids in college. Made a lot of mistakes, like a lot of people do. I was always told “don’t do it.” I was always terrified of getting in trouble and being punished, instead of being afraid of actually doing drugs or drinking.

    Being an adult now, I have more control obviously..a glass of wine every once in a while. I never had an issue with smoking or drugs, mainly due to my allergies and asthma, but I witnessed their use by friends.

    My boyfriend and I have even talked about how we would want to explain these types of issues to our kids in the future, and we both agree with you. There has got to be some type of balance in explaining these types of issues to people you care about, especially kids.

  4. The problem is not always about not having the truth. The problem is often about the perception of invincibility in youth. I’ve been there. Sure, some people get addicted: but I won’t. Sure, some people can’t drive when they’ve been drinking: but I’m more in control than that and know my own limits. Etc. It’s very difficult for anyone to impart to a young person that he/she is not invincible. That’s knowledge that comes with a certain age and maturity. Some of us are lucky enough to figure it out before the bad things happen. Some are not.

    1. I agree with every bit of this. And maybe that should be part of the discussion. Show them all the brilliant and powerful people who weren’t immune. I don’t know why, but the power of the goodness of drugs is what terrified me. And I don’t know many kids who were as dumb as I was on the “I’m invincible” front. In fact, I’m pretty sure if my parents had just told me, “Don’t try them. They suck,” I’d be an addict today.

  5. Great post, Hugh. I have a kid. He’s 9. And his mother and I are straight with him about everything. We’ve already talked about alcohol and drugs and about how they really mess people up. Don’t think we thought of spinning the ‘good’ angle. We do have a smart kid. He’s also type 1 diabetic, so any drugs or alcohol in his future is bound to be a fatal experiment. I’ll think about what you’ve said. And you’re right when you say “it’s easy to give parenting advice to the world when you don’t have any of your own”, but you still give an interesting idea based on your own parent’s tactics, and that’s actually worth something.

    No, I’m not saying you should write a parenting book though. ;) Thanks for writing this. I loved Philip in his role as Capote. He was indeed a brilliant actor. And it’s the cliche tragedy we’ve all come to expect from brilliant people, that they fall to addiction to cope with all the ways in which they’re otherwise miserable.

    The real problem is addiction itself. We’re all addicted to something. Starbucks coffee? Cake anyone? Porn! There’s always something. And all of these substances are ways people choose to ‘check out’ from reality for a little while. Some are more benign addictions than others. Personally I’ve been able to get sober from food and sex. But there’s one addiction I don’t have any interest in getting rid of: creativity; namely, writing. And, reading! I’m wondering how we could get our kids hooked on the wonders of reading and creating art (in all its amazing and addicting) forms…sorry for the digression, but you get the point. :)

  6. My daughter’s four, and when she inquires about Santa, I always pose open ended questions, like: “You tell me, do you think he exists?” “Does it sound reasonable that a total stranger breaks into our house at night to deliver free goods? In this economy?”

    I don’t have the heart to destroy the myth outright, but at the same time I am not contributing to it. Just giving her subtle threads that it’s all a pack of lies, hoping she’d figure it out on her own without being a brazen daddy.

    It’s not so much that we need to be upfront about how good drugs make you feel, but raise them to appreciate how much better life is. And that if you live your life right, you get a much more profound, more pleasurable high.

    On PSH, here’s the scene where I fell in love with him from The Talented Mr. Ripley:

    I suggest you ask Dickie that yourself.
    Otello’s is on delle Croce, just off the

    Is it on “delle Croce, just off the
    Corso”? You’re a quick study, aren’t you?
    Last time you didn’t know your ass from
    your elbow, now you’re giving me
    directions. That’s not fair, you probably
    do know your ass from your elbow. I’ll
    see you.

  7. I can recall being told that about coke and heroin- it’s so good, it’ll hook you at the first taste. And that WAS a deterrant. But now it’s a matter of science. When people are making drugs out of something you’d use to remove a really nasty stain or the shit off your toilet and IT’LL kill your child at first taste, it doesn’t make sense to tell them drugs are fun and risk that first try. I like zombies as much as the next girl BUT do I want my kid’s first dabble in drugs to incite them to eat off somebody’s face? Not SO much.

  8. Victoria Bailey Avatar

    Hugh, thank you for saying in public what I’ve been saying in private for years. I was always honest about my drug usage with my kids (I bartended in a club during the disco era, what drug usage?) and thought it served as a great information system. They knew that cocaine was too pretty after only one taste and that weed ended up being something most of my friends spent all their spare time with. There was no sense of mystery about drugs and no forbidden fruit aspect. And it worked.

    It’s kind of how I was with alcohol growing up. My parents let me have a small amount of wine or beer once I was a teenager. It was no big deal. While my friends were binge drinking on weekend nights, I already knew what the results would be and decided to pass on the joys of hangovers.

    I predict a lot of argument about this topic, but your view makes a lot of sense if people would dig past the knee jerk reaction built up from DARE classes and media hype. There are too many talented people dying from overdoses to continue on the way we’ve been doing. It’s obvious that it’s not working. It’s time to try a different tactic.

    1. Victoria,

      How old are your kids now? How do you know it worked? I am glad to hear your story because it’s pretty much how I handle it with my kids who are 12 and 14 now. All I can say is that I started trying alcohol at 12 and I am pretty sure my kids are not there yet. I tell them about the good stuff and my regrets and about the people who totally messed up their lives that I knew, and how that happened. And unless they are really hiding stuff, I think, so far so good. My mother talked openly with us and I think that’s where I got my sense of where there was a line that should not be crossed, one that if crossed I may never be able to come back from. That line kept me from trying things like Cocaine and Mescaline. I was too afraid I wouldn’t be able to stop. I can only hope that it continues to work for my kids and they make it through high school and college without getting into too much trouble. Thanks for sharing your success Victoria.

    2. My parents were the same way. My mother was a frickin’ genius about raising kids. Being a high school teacher helped. The smartest thing she ever did was NEVER give us a curfew. We could stay out as late as we wanted. But you know what? Nobody else could stay out late, and why would we want to stay out by ourselves? It was brilliant. When I got to college, I’d go to bed at 10pm. Kids were staying up simply because they suddenly could.

      Suppressing the wishes of our youth is like coiling a spring. When we let go, we like to think we aren’t responsible for what happens next.

      1. Ha! My mom, who was VERY strict otherwise, did that too. I had a curfew until 16 and then could stay out–but no one else could. It was kind of brilliant–but I guess if everyone had done that, it wouldn’t have worked out so well.

        1. Yeah, I’ve always thought of her plan as having that one glaring weakness. What if even my best friend had a mom with the same idea?

          Still, staying out late probably seems appealing because it’s against the rules. When I get tired, I just want to be in bed. I’ll see my friends tomorrow. :)

      2. When I was a kid, it was legal to drink at 18. My parents looked around and saw that everybody my age was drinking, so their solution was simple: Have parties.

        I had more parties than anybody in my high school. I had post-parties after other people’s parties. Everybody always welcome at my house, and Dad would have a beer with them. Ma would fill their bellies up on tasty treats to dilute the booze. Nobody was allowed to drive away drunk, but anybody was allowed to do the other kind of crashing on a couch or cot.

        By the time I got to college, drinking wasn’t some novelty. And today, I still occasionally hear from old friends reminiscing about waking up on the floor with my mom’s vacuum banging into their head. It was a shared bonding experience.

  9. Being a middle grade writer, I usually find it’s better not to publicly comment on drugs, but I 100% agree with this post. As a new father, one day, after he learns to talk and understand English, I plan to tell my son something similar to the message here. I’ve lost too many friends to drugs and it wasn’t because drugs weren’t fun for them. Death isn’t the worst thing that can happen to an addict. A person on drugs isn’t the same person and isn’t the same friend.

    I myself tried cigarettes in high school to look cool and found they lived up to the hype. Those things are addictive, which is why it took me years to quit. I tried them because my friends told me they were great (and they were), even though my parents promised they’d make me poor and unhealthy (and they did).

    Sucks about Hoffman, though. I re-watch Doubt every so often as everyone in that movie knocks it out of the park. I even think Mission Impossible 3 is the only one of those worth watching more than once because he’s in it. Love Liza was something I never would’ve watched without him.

    I loved that he was one of the few people in film I could relate to because he was so normal looking. I’m not accustomed to seeing people who look like Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt on a regular basis, but Hoffman always looked like someone you might meet at a coffee shop. He wasn’t afraid to look bad, which is why he totally stole Red Dragon from everyone, including Anthony Hopkins. It’s a sad day.

    1. I tried cigarettes for the same reason. My stepfather (whom I love and adore to this day) was a heavy smoker. It was bad for me but good for him? Let me see.

      I smoked a pack a day for 15 years before finally quitting cold turkey. This was after many other failed attempts at quitting. I smoked for a long time while hating it and hating myself. I was disgusted with my weakness. And anyone who knows me will say that I have ridiculous willpower. I went three years without having sex (from age 23 to 26) just because. I drove from coast to coast — 36 hours behind the wheel — without sleep. I’ve been a week without food, just for kicks. And a week without speaking. But I couldn’t go a day without a cigarette. I couldn’t quit.

      Eight years ago, I stopped. Haven’t had a puff since. But now I’m terrified of cigarettes, like one smoke and I’d be right back at it. That’s the fear of how good things are that can work. Lying and saying “drugs suck” without explaining how they suck doesn’t seem to work.

      1. Dude, I’m with you. The entrance to my day job is off the smoking area (poor planning) and every time I walk through there I want to beg someone for just one puff, but I know where that leads. It comes down to risk versus reward and I’m not about to cuddle my baby with smoked-in clothes, regardless of the pleasure that cigarette would bring me–and it would, it totally would. And shame and disgust and a period of self-loathing, but first, pleasure.

        That being said, I’ve always claimed that if I live to 95 and the singularity hasn’t happened and nobody can freeze me and thaw me out SHIFT style, I’m smoking crack:) If I know I’ve got a year or two left and nobody needs me for anything, why not give that and meth a try. Could be a fine weekend.

        Until that day, I’m grateful not to know how great they probably are.

      2. Congrats on quitting smoking! I smoked for about 20 years, off & on (mostly on), and finally quit for good nearly 8 years ago. I’ll celebrate my anniversary on April Fool’s Day. I know for a FACT that if I have even one puff, I’ll be back on cigarettes so fast it would make your head spin. When I found out I was pregnant with my son (over 15 years ago) I threw away my cigarettes and didn’t smoke again for three years…until I went to visit a friend in NYC who was a smoker. I was back on the cancer sticks within a couple of hours. Those things are unbelievably difficult to kick. My son knows how difficult it was for me to finally quit, so (hopefully) he won’t be as stupid as I was, and he will never start in the first place.

        RE: the drug thing, I’ve shared my personal experiences (which were many in my late teens), and what I saw my friends go through. Our discussions have been similar to what your parents told you. My son’s not old enough yet to know if it was the right choice, but I’m crossing my fingers and trusting that honesty was the way to go. :)

      3. Ha! I was just going to say that you’re not giving yourself credit for your willpower, but here you are. I just figured that your addiction to reading and knowledge would eventually lead you across something so truthful and compelling that it would be the switch to get you to quit for good. I knew I wasn’t going to be that compelling or convincing. But man you were a true addict, I remember you lighting up after a meal and saying to me “Man, I wish you could feel how good this is.”.

        And you’re not so afraid that you haven’t avoided people smoking, because you’ve gotten right up in there and taken some amazing shots of other people enjoying their cigs.

      4. That’s what I wish we could explain to people so they could really understand. Sure, it feels great now, but someday you won’t be drinking most of a fifth a day (or smoking, or using) because it feels good. It won’t. It’ll just feel normal, and be what you have to do to function. By the way, you’ll hate yourself, your fix, your life, and just about everything else. But yeah, the first few times are great.

  10. Great post, Hugh.
    Somehow we got away from “that stuff will wreck your brain and kill you” (per my parents warnings) to “just say no”. The truth of what illegal drugs do to a human being got lost in cute catchy phrases. There’s nothing cute about what drugs or excess alcohol do to people and the people around them.

    1. Exactly. I’ve already started to talk (in very general terms) about drugs with my young daughter, since addiction runs on one side of the family. I showed her some pictures of mugshots a few years apart on a site, and you could really see how drugs destroyed some people physically. I told her that people get hooked on the feeling and will do anything to keep feeling that way, even if they are slowly dying. It’s really tragic.

  11. Some good thoughts here. So far I’ve tried to talk to my son about addiction in an age-appropriate but honest way. He knows that some of our close family have died because of addictions and that there are some people that he has never met because they are addicts and so I won’t let them near him. He knows that I don’t drink alcohol. He doesn’t know that I’m a recovering alcoholic – he’s too young to carry that around, it won’t make sense to him yet. With my family history, getting this conversation right is crucial. Personally I’ll be explaining that the trouble with drugs is that it’s a lottery and that top prize is that you get to feel great for about an hour and then don’t die alone having torn out the hearts of those who once loved you. That’s the best thing you can win in the drugs lottery – and lots of people do win the grand prize. Lucky them. But if you don’t win that top prize then you get one of the other exciting prizes on offer. Prizes include but are not limited to – loss of job, divorce, bankruptcy, humiliation, homelessness, permanent psychosis, incontinence, premature dementia – so many brilliant prizes on offer, who wouldn’t want a ticket for that…. And you don’t get to choose your ticket – your ticket is marked for you before you ever pick up the drugs. There is only one thing worse than dying of addiction, and that is living with addiction. Be at peace now, Philip Seymour Hoffman. There but for the grace of God go any one of us.

  12. As usual you give me something to chew on. On the surface I think you are absolutley right. We’ll see what I think after I chew awhile.

  13. Wow, I’ve been under a rock. I didn’t know parents weren’t telling their kids that. I grew up in the 70s when drugs were easier to get than smokes. My parents had no idea they were even out there. I was too afraid to take drugs because, wait for it, I read a book (imagine that, a book) called ‘Go Ask Alice’. After that you could not pay me to take drug. I had my daughter read it when she was 12. She also has never figured out why people would risk their lives on this behavior but we both don’t know what that “good” feels like, never will . If we go the grave never having experienced an addiction, we have missed nothing. There are many things out there that ‘feel’ good but can ruin your life; the part I don’t get is; this is common sense. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

  14. Thanks for this great post Hugh. I don’t think it’s too soon to talk about. I think it’s the best time to talk about it. People are sad and reflective and thinking about their own experiences with drugs. It’s great to discuss all of this when our feelings on the subject are raw and open and not all closed up and moved on with. It’s also great as a mother of young teens to hear what other people are doing with their kids on the subject and to feel supported with this kind of approach.

    So sad to lose another great talent in this way.

  15. Yes, absolutely. That’s how we handled things with our kids. The bigger picture is just don’t lie. About anything. Ever. Kids can’t make the right decisions in a world that’s built of lies. (Adults can’t either, really.) Trust is something that’s hard to build and once it’s broken it’s usually gone for ever. Lies destroy trust.

  16. The thought that parents should be honest with their children seems like such an obvious, no-brainer idea, doesn’t it? Clearly, that’s the way to go, but (as a parent) I face heaps of judgement when I start. I’ve been candid and honest with my daughter about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, and I don’t regret doing so, but the rest of my family, other parents, teachers, they all look at me sideways over it.

    Even you, Hugh, as adored and massively successful as you are, pepper your thoughts with the fear that they might get you in trouble. It’s a terrible shame, this unfortunate reality we’re in. Discourse is often discounted, and we have to walk on eggshells even when we’re saying something as basic as: be honest.

    Personally, I’m sick of being PC. I’ve reached the point where I really don’t care what social judgement some poor-man activist somewhere might make; the fear that the internet might fall down on my head for an opinion just isn’t enough to stop me from saying what’s abundantly clear. It’s just too important to have a voice in the overall narrative.

    Drugs. According to initial reports, they killed Hoffman, the syringe still hanging out of his arm. And no amount of celebrating his life is going to change that. They’re killing off some of our best and brightest. They’re ripping apart communities. What we’ve been doing, as a society, isn’t working.

    In short, I applaud anyone who calls for a change in the game plan.

  17. Totally sucks about Hoffman. I loved this guy. Like you I would watch anything with him in, just to see how good he was. He is probably the only guy who was able to make my skin crawl (in his roles, I mean) and who I would actively seek out.

    Regarding drugs. Spot on. I spent twenty years slowly watching my brother kill himself because he was addicted to alcohol. It’s the shittest experience to watch a normal, great guy with a bag load of talent turn into something that resembled a guy from the street with questionable mental capabilities. He died just over a year ago and it leaves this big hole that’s not just filled with grief, but a big dollop of guilt that you couldn’t do more, and anger that he couldn’t do more.

    I really feel for his family.

    You’re right to be scared of drugs, Hugh. Great article.

  18. My daughter is 6. I have a serious illness, and take a lot of medications. Not all drugs are bad, and they don’t all make you feel good (lo that some of these would). What I couldn’t get out of my head yesterday is the complicity that takes place in Hollywood and society in general. Hollywood is a HUGE enabler. They hide the drug use, they supply it, they take out big insurance policies to protect their films, and yet they still employ addicts. How about putting some of that money towards helping these people heal? REALLY recover. In the realm of regular people, as has been mentioned, is the alcohol factor. It’s everywhere, it’s acceptable, and it’s downright deadly. Living in a state that has a HUGE drunk driving problem, there is a section in the paper for DUI arrests. The repeat offenses are astounding. More than ten DUIs? Seriously? And sometimes they drive down the wrong side of the highway and kill a lot of people. Heroin won’t be the first drug my daughter will encounter. It’s alcohol. That’s the trickiest one to navigate of them all.

  19. I’ve always been upfront with my kids. I’ve told them that drugs are fun while you’re doing them but they make you lose sight of what’s really important, they take away your will to live and love, and eventually they will destroy you and turn you into a person no one likes, including yourself. So far, so good.

  20. Great post, Hugh. And great comments so far, too.

    When I think about my childhood, sometimes I feel like the luckiest person — and not because it was great. I was raised by a single mom, whose alcoholism and drug use got really bad in my teen years. At almost 30 I can say I’ve never tried drugs, never even smoked a cigarette. And I watch my alcohol consumption, because I’m conscious of my genetics (my grandma and a few aunts/uncles are also alcoholics) and I’m terrified of my life spinning out of control.

    So I agree with your “give it to them straight” approach. When my future kids are teenagers and old enough to understand, with my mom’s blessing (she went to rehab when I was 22) she and I will together tell them about my teenage years. Tell them about how much fun alcohol/drugs can be, but also what the consequences are when it spins out of control. And that because of their genetics, they have a slightly higher chance of that happening to them. This is one of the reasons I am slightly terrified of having kids (add to the mix the evolution of the internet, social media, bullying, etc.)

  21. kathy czarnecki Avatar

    I think the idea of what you are saying in this post is a great start. Parents being honest with their kids. I don’t think, however, people use drugs to be “happy”. I do think drug/alcohol abusers feel escape from pain or misery nobody else can know. Pain is rather subjective. Addiction is a deep, dark and difficult disease. No matter what someone thinks is best for someone else, nobody can know the experience or mind of another. A non addict/alcoholic can never know what the addict/alcoholic experiences. If you have 2 arms and 2 legs, you can’t know the experience of someone missing a limb. Same goes for any disease. Words like “willpower” and “control” have no meaning to the addict’s mind. I am writing this as a 10 year sober person. A person who when I was a teenager broke off a relationship with my best friend who wanted to experiment with drugs. I said no to drugs not because of what my parent’s told me but I was afraid I would like them. My issue never was drugs. Why not? I don’t know. Thank goodness. It was much later in life that alcohol was the “over the counter” medication I used too much to take it all away. It brought no happiness. The brain is a complicated business. Going to the origins of this post- I will miss Phillip Seymour Hoffman also. A great actor with a disease that you can put a lid on and live better. The damn thing just got him first.

  22. My parents never had any of the “the talks” with me out of awkwardness and because I was always a great kid and not necessarily at risk. I had to learn about sex, drugs, and rock and roll all by myself and now I love all three :) (as for “drugs” I do smoke pot, but would never touch anything harder and I have a good job/marriage so I don’t think of it as a big deal). I do think parents should be honest with their kids and negate the forbidden fruit effect since that is a large part of the allure.

    On a related topic, why do you think artists (of all kinds) tend to struggle with drugs more so than the rest of the population? Is it because it’s expected of them, the people they hang out with, or does the personality of an artist just naturally include that type of behavior? As a sometimes writer, I do feel that marijuana increases my creativity and my writing is more fluid and effortless after I smoke.

  23. Hugh; I see what you are getting at, but I don’t see how your approach is much better than “Just Say No”.

    – “Drugs WILL Ruin Your Life” presupposes all drugs are equally bad, when clearly they are not. Some drugs (opioids, coccaine (and derivatives), amphetamines, tranquilizers, and tobacco) are extremely habit-forming. (Alcohol is addictive, but to a much lesser extent, and generally requires heavy use to trigger the initial addiction.) They foster addiction through well-known chemical pathways forming physical dependence. Other drugs, like pot and ecstasy, while not exactly healthy, are no more “addictive” than in the sense that any pleasurable thing (such as gambling, sex, food, etc.) can foster an addiction in some people under the right circumstances.

    – Not all, or even most, users of even the hardest-core drugs become addicts. (Surprisingly, nicotine is the exception here… a couple weeks of regular use and most, though not all, users will become addicted.) It’s important to point this out to kids so they don’t wonder why most of their friends that do use drugs are not, in fact, hopeless junkies and then start to doubt the whole “it’s a bad idea” thing. You then follow this up with the fact that it’s pretty much impossible to predict who’s going to become an addict to what ahead of time.

    – It’s important to address prescription drug abuse. Kids (and plenty of adults, and, sadly, plenty of doctors) fail to recognize the addictive potential of many prescription drugs. There are correct ways to prescribe them and use them, and incorrect ways. It can be hard for kids to understand that legitimate and useful drugs can be extremely harmful if used incorrectly. Opiates are matchless for short-term acute pain, cancer pain, and end-of-life care. Amphetamines are useful mental health drugs when ramped up carefully, and discontinued for side-effects or ineffectiveness for the prescribed use. Opiates are nearly useless for chronic non-cancer pain, and it’s playing with fire to use Amphetamines as uppers (or, god forbid, weight loss) instead of a treatment for severe ADD. I think the guideline for prescription drugs should be: “If it gives you a high, immediately lower the dosage or discontinue the Rx drug, as it’s not supposed to do that when used correctly.”

    Don’t get me wrong; I’m no cheerleader for mind-altering substances. I’ve never smoked anything in my life, nor used any illegal drug, nor used an Rx not prescribed to me, nor used painkillers longer than 10 days. But if your primary weapon against your kids using drugs is to tell them they are doomed if they look at a joint sideways, they are quickly going to disbelieve you.

    1. I think you nailed it when you pointed out that we can’t know who will become horribly addicted and who won’t. The NIH states that marijuana is an addictive substance, and that 1 in 9 will become addicted. So it’s a game of Russian Roulette. That’s terrifying. Let’s not pull the trigger and find out who winds up dead.

      I agree that sex and gambling have the same effect. I think they should be included in this discussion. And I’m not claiming to have easy answers. I just wonder if we couldn’t reduce the number of victims with brutal honesty rather than a pack of lies and crossed fingers. Maybe not. I don’t know.

      1. The human mind is a master at creating its own demons. We are blessed with self-awareness and “intelligence,” but still burdened with base biological desires and chemical reactions.

        My mom smoked like a chimney and I saw how it affected her, thus I never wanted to try it (instead I got addicted to caffeine ;) ). But I didn’t grow up in a household that said all drugs were “evil.”

        I grew up viewing drugs in a scientifically objective and cultural way and was left to draw my own conclusions. In my opinion NOT all drugs are “bad” (though all substances, even sugar, should be treated with respectful awareness) – a lot of creative works and inventions (including the computer) were born of things like psychedelics. And others (like weed) can even be medicinal.

        Weed’s addictive in a different way. When one stops, the “come down” is so slow (about a month) that the brain doesn’t register withdrawals like it does with other drugs. But it can still be addictive because our natural canabanoid receptors can become dependent on it, however, they also can fully recover. This article states that only 9% of users truly become “addicted”:

        But the ones that destroy our bodies or minds (like ciggs or meth or alcohol) are certainly to be treated with awareness and to be avoided.

    2. I completely agree with your comment. While I believe telling the truth has merit, the truth Hugh wrote was only a half-truth. Telling kids they WILL get addicted and have their lives ruined may be closer to the truth, but it’s still a lie. It’s leaving out the fact that a lot of people use drugs and still lead normal lives, some free of addiction, some simply without many consequences.

      There’s a great book called High Price by Dr. Carl Hart of Columbia University which challenges a lot of the conventional wisdom on drugs and how they affect people and society. I’d recommend it.

      On the topic of Hoffman though, I’m still devastated at the news, and I agree with Hugh that it’s a similar feeling as to when Ledger died. I actually tweeted that while I didn’t care about Paul Walker dying, Hoffman’s death has left me quite sad.

    3. Really great comment. Thanks for leaving it.

  24. This is a really interesting take on drugs and how to deal with the issue with kids. Mine are only 4 and 5, so while we’ve talked about cigarettes, drugs use hasn’t come up yet. I do plan on clearly showing them what drugs do to you. I like your idea of showing them all of the brilliant, successful, and up-and-coming people who have become statistics because of drug use. Growing up, I never had any desire to use drugs or drink; I think part of it is because I was comfortable with who I was. Part of it, honestly, was also my relationship with God. I didn’t need the other stuff when I had him. My hope and prayer for my kids is that they will always know that they are loved and accepted, that they have value and a purpose. Hopefully that, combined with knowing the truth about drugs, will keep them safe in this area.

  25. Wow, I never looked at drugs, alcohol this way. I will be passing this on.

  26. This is so sad. I loved him in every film, but especially when he portrayed Truman Capote. Maybe it’s because “In Cold Blood” is one of my favorite books, but he was great in every movie I’ve seen him in. He will be missed. Thanks for this Hugh.

  27. When I took my wife and I took foster care training classes we learned how drugs hit the pleasure sensors of your brain and they described it this way (for meth) – A cheeseburger is like 0.5 in pleasure. Sex is a 3. Meth is an 11 which is why it only takes one time for people to get completely addicted. Meth is a huge problem in my home town. It’s all over the place – but I’ve known a guy who only smoked pot and I’m not sure what troubles he was trying to get away from or if he just couldn’t get enough of that high – but he was always stoned and I had to introduce myself to him like 5 times before he remembered me. Smart guy too, brilliant with audio, yes he was in a rock band, but just always high as a kite. Makes me sad.

  28. Never understood why any intelligent person would ever knowingly use Heroin.
    Many people at some point in their lives will experiment with pot, or even cocaine.
    While for some this will be the start of a downward spiral, for many they smarten up on their own and go on to lead happy productive lives. But heroin? If the statistics can be believed, there is no experimenting with heroin. Use it once, and you are most likely hooked. Why would anyone take the chance?

  29. Incredible post.

    I remember reading Ringworld as a teenager, and thinking about the “wire heads” — people who connected a low level current to the pleasure center of their brain, and then just wasted away. They’d find them weeks later, starved to death because they couldn’t be bothered to go eat. I thought how amazing it would be to feel pleasure so great you’d never need to get up, and it was horrifying.

  30. Stephanie Timiney Avatar
    Stephanie Timiney

    While as a mother I feel dread talking about things like drugs and sex because I don’t want to spark that curiosity in my kids, I know that if I don’t talk to them about the good, bad, and the ugly, someone else will. It’s about letting our kids know that while in the moment you’ll feel like it’s the only thing in the world you should do, but I want them to understand the potential long-term consequences. They can make a bad decision and probably even several and get away with it, but sooner or later our bad choices catch up to us and it potentially destroys ourselves, our family, and personal relationships. Sending our kids into the world armed with this information may not prevent them from making the wrong decision, but it’s sure better than saying don’t do this because it’s bad and then not give them the hard truth as to why that is. Kids have to know why this is bad, because their peer are going to have a list of reasons why it’s so good. If they don’t have any evidence to back up why something is bad, you are sending them out defenseless.

  31. The one thing I would add to this otherwise wonderful discussion is ‘acceptance’. Being honest and open is a huge step that desperately needs taking, but on the other side of that needs to be acceptance. We will make mistakes and we will fall down. This needs to be ok. When we ask for help, then help (real help) needs to be there. We need to stop shaming people for addiction and mistakes long after the fact. The support system that currently exists is not good enough. If you are lucky enough to have people who love you around you and help you, then great, but all too often people have no one to rely on and a world that cannot accept them or support their recovery.

    Also, I’m 34, my parents were always straight-up brutally honest about this stuff and I never had a curfew. I never touched drugs or had any desire to ‘go wild’. This is all very Coming of Age in Somoa, and despite faults with the study, I think it holds a lot of great information. Thanks for a great post, Hugh! I love the discussions you spark.

    1. kathy czarnecki Avatar

      thanks for adding this important word: “acceptance”. That is so true. Acceptance of oneself is a first step in overcoming addiction and acceptance by friends and family that addiction is devastating is priceless to everyone involved.

  32. As a mother of an addict reading this was so hard. Society always blames the parents. Its so easy to be critical. I don’t think there is any easy answer. Kids will always push the boundaries because that’s what kids do. What works for one child, doesn’t for another. That’s why I have one child who is very high in the nursing profession and has never touched a drug in her life, and then I have my son who has thrown away everything trying escaping from reality. If it was as simple as just telling a child something we would have figured it out years ago. All you people that say oh this has worked for me are probably just very lucky.
    Addiction in my experience seems to effect the very charismatic and the very creative . I wonder if there is something in their brain chemistry that makes them more vulnerable. Most addicts are just beautiful people trapped in a world they cant escape from.
    I don’t believe there is a simple solution, if there was, we wouldn’t have addiction.

    1. You said:
      >Addiction in my experience seems to effect the very charismatic and the very creative <

      I too wonder about this. Maybe the talent that makes them excel at Acting does not guarantee that they are cut out emotionally to be constantly in the Public's eye. So some turn to drugs to handle that pressure. The rich and famous celebrity has easy access to dangerous drugs, probably always someone nearby who is willing and able to supply this poison, and all too often, no one willing to risk their jobs to try and stop them.

    2. kathy czarnecki Avatar

      so well said, thanks for sharing your insight.

  33. You go from one end of the spectrum of lying about drugs to the opposite. You clearly do not adhere to your own advice about lying to your children. Telling them they’re amazing and better than being sober is one thing, telling them every single user ends up not caring about their family and doing anything they can for the next fix is so absurdly inaccurate that I couldn’t take anything else you said after seriously. This post was bad for me and next time you post something, I won’t read it.

  34. I agree entirely…In my 20’s, my friends and I had one night of drinking and snorting cocaine, lots of it. We partied all night long, just an experiment. And the next morning we were all at work at 8am, no hangover, no fatigue. IT WAS AWESOME. The high was great, the experience was great, and the consequences were nonexistent…I never went back. I was smart enough to know the rabbit hole this created.
    My kids don’t know this story. Sometimes I wish they did.

  35. I agree, this is horribly sad. I don’t feel like he ever really got the credit he deserved for how wonderful and multifaceted of an actor he was. His role as Capote has been indelibly seared into my mind forever and he will be greatly missed for all of the talent that he brought to the world for our enjoyment.

    R.I.P. Philip

  36. I tried all kinds of drugs when I was in my early 20s, just once each (except for pot) because I wanted, as a writer and as a would-be parent to be able to tell my kids from experience what it was like. Fortunately, I don’t have an addictive personality and had no problems trying it once and then stopping. I hate to say this but sad as it is to lose people like Phillip and Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse, they have no one else to blame but themselves. Addiction or not, at the end of the day, it’s about choice. You choose to go get help and stop or you choose to keep going. Saying “I can’t help it” is such a cop-out.

  37. Betty Dahlstedt Avatar

    I am the mother of twins that are now in their 40s, with children of their own. I tried never to lie to my children….especially because as a child the whole Santa Claus only taught me that my parents lied. I do not feel that you can tell your children things that they do not want to hear. The best that I found was to let them open the door to a conversation about things such as drugs, drinking, sex, etc. First to find out: what they know or not know, then, what do they think, your opinion should come last and only if they want it at that point. Hopefully, these conversations will take place over a long period of time, beginning at a very early age.

  38. I agree with much of what you said, but to be fair, marijuana isn’t like heroin or cigarettes, insofar as they have a high potential for abuse leading towards that ‘never ending downward spiral’. Nor are psychedelics.

    The government has been lying to us about the supposed dangers of marijuana and psychedelics for too long, and finally, the evidence is slowly coming out proving this. They seen what happened in the sixties and have since taken the hardline stance against all things mind altering….except perhaps the two most dangerous and addictive drugs known to man, cigarettes and alcohol. Mostly because marijuana, LSD, and drugs of that nature, are not only extremely harmless compared to the legal drugs, but because they cause people to see life in new ways, questioning authority especially. By banning them, they crippled creative and questioning thought in the youth of America. Sure, enough of both types of drugs have slipped through the cracks to universities and cities across the country, but not in amount large enough to elicit change or become mainstream.

    So while it’s important to be honest about drugs, and yes, many drugs can bring about happiness, it’s also imperative to be honest about the effects of those drugs, and admitting that some of the drugs we vilify the most are in fact so harmless that some states have legalized them for the sake of tax dollars. You don’t take those steps and be allowed to do so by the Fed unless there’s a good reason.

    1. I’ve watched friends throw their lives away to sit around stoned all the time. Yes, you can’t OD on joints like you can on alcohol, but there is an addictive effect and damage to memory function. If people want to get stoned, that’s fine with me. I find it just as sad as people who get drunk.

      Something else that has always puzzled me is the lack of ownership of violence caused by the illicit marijuana trade. People are in an uproar about blood diamonds and fur coats, but the same people buy illicit marijuana which fuels horrific violence south of the border. Growing your own skirts this hypocrisy, but how many choose to do that? Just an observation. We are always able to rationalize our own predilections but see the flaws in others.

  39. While approaching drug use responsibly, you’re taking it from an approach of mis-information.

    Everybody handles chemicals differently. While one person can do heroin once and become addicted, there’s other people that can take it a few times and never become addicted. The exact reason to this isn’t confirmed. “And however strong you think you are, nobody is stronger than drugs” is very misleading and lying to kids again.

    A better approach is to start out on educating yourself on drugs, the war on drugs, and recent studies on drugs. If I may suggest, start by reading “High Price” by Dr. Carl Hart and “The Emperor Wears No Clothes” by Jack Herer and expand from there. After you’ve absorbed everything that you can, then you talk about drugs with your kids, and tell them the truth about drugs and the risks involved. And you’ve done the best thing possible, you started by actually knowing the topic before talking about it and are stopping the spread of lies.

  40. Man, this is so well said. This is pretty much how we talk to our kids (ages 12 & 14) about drugs, and for that exact reason—why would they trust us about anything if we lie to them? My hope is that they never smoke anything, but if they do? And It’s pot? And they love it? We’ve lost trust and credibility. We’ve been honest with them about the things we did as kids, and why—not as excuses, but to show them how much better our lives have been since we learned better—and they respect us for that. They know we won’t lie to them, and that keeps the lines of communication open so that hopefully they’ll continue, always, to come to us with questions about drugs, alcohol, etc. so that we can continue to affirm the right messages to them.

  41. Here’s what I told my kids: people use drugs for a function. To feel less anxious at the party, with the guy, to have fun, to sleep, to wake up, to feel good. Some people take drugs to get better grades, get an erection, get to sleep after taking those other drugs–it goes on and on.

    And I ask them to trust in themselves, that they actually have the ability to develop, INSIDE themselves, the skills to do those things.

    The problem with drinking or smoking weed or taking mushrooms during every math class to make it fun, is that you don’t ever build your coping skills. Never learn how to sit with boredom, or be happy, get enough sleep, feel good, wake up on time, take an exam.

    There’s a school of thought that, when people finally sober up, they are, developmentally, the mental age of when they started using. Because they never evolved psychologically past that point.

    Having said that, I do live in Humboldt and am not anti-drug. I’m anti-crutch, especially for able-bodied kids. We’re all a hell of a lot stronger than we give ourselves credit for.

    RIP Mr. Hoffman.

    1. mk—SO well said, and such a great message to teach kids. Bravo.

  42. I’ve been thinking about this discussion all day. One thing that keeps coming back to me is something I heard a psychologist say after Columbine. The cement in teenagers’ heads is not dry yet…that place that makes them able to see long term consequences. So perhaps it’s not so much what we say, as what we model. My parents never tried pot. I was the very straight and scared and judgmental honor student. I tried pot in my late 20s, living on a boat on the dock of the Bay. I did it a lot, until I didn’t. (Never before work, etc. though). I don’t believe it’s a gateway drug unless you are predisposed to having that gate open AND you are willing to risk it. And if it wasn’t pot, you’d end up through the gate via some other means. Pick your poison, we’ve got lots.

    1. I think the trouble is we never really know what we will get addicted to, until we are addicted to it. Somebody picks up a normal cigarette and then never seems able to put one down, another never feels any addiction. Everybody differs, but you just don’t know until you are already in the trap. Makes it like playing Russian Roulette – there’s anyway that chance…

  43. I’m glad you wrote this piece. It’s a testament to Philip Seymour Hoffman that so many of us were deeply touched by his brilliance, and are now mourning his loss.

    I really didn’t want to get into the whole addiction/drug conversation, because I saw so many knee-jerk reactions online. Too much judgment and too little compassion. As a sensitive artist with some knowledge of drugs and addiction (personally and professionally), I just wanted to celebrate Mr. Hoffman’s life and his supreme talent. I didn’t want to remember him as an addict. No one wants to be an addict. I wanted to remember him as one who excelled at his craft both on stage and on camera by bringing every cell of his being into each role he chose.

    But I’m also not a proponent of denial, and your post is a compassionate attempt to reach out for answers. I don’t have them. I wish I did. I believe that when you’re talking about drugs here, you are speaking to toxic substances that have the ability to bleed our souls and rob us and our loved ones of our lives. I don’t believe your intent was to get into heated discussions about the hierarchy of illegal and legal substances. So, I shall not tread into that debate.

    I believe the reason Mr. Hoffman’s death has had such a powerful impact on us was that he was our idea of a regular good guy, a brother, a son, a father, a friend. He wasn’t the type of cookie-cut Hollywood pretty boy that lowers our expectations. Instead, he raised our expectations and inspired us at the same time. In fact, he felt like one of us. Then they found the heroin and the needle, and we each felt the same horror, that gut wrenching deeply personal realization that there but for the grace of God ….

    You’re right. Drugs suck. Just Say No programs suck. Addiction sucks. Loss sucks. Whatever we’re doing so far to stop the misuse of drugs sucks. My ex-husband did a lot of psychedelic drugs in college before I met him. He was bright and funny, and looked and acted a lot like a young Robin Williams, but he drank too much while I knew him. He was abusive. I took our children and left him. He was later diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, but he wouldn’t take medication. We tried to help him while he insisted that his life was being threatened through ultrasound waves. We were frightened, but we tried to get him the medical help he needed. Then he took a gun and shot himself in the heart. Not the head. The heart. And propped up before him were pictures of our daughters. They were 15 and 18 years old. I was left to tell them what happened. That more than sucked.

    We were devastated. I was working as a drug and alcohol prevention specialist at the time, and there was my ex-husband suffering so much emotional pain that his only relief was to aim for his heart and not miss. Was his schizophrenia drug induced from all the psychedelics he took in college? I don’t have that answer, but I do know that his abuse of drugs did not serve him or his daughters even though that abuse occurred before they were born. There were no drugs in his system when he died, but who knows what damage had already been done.

    As a prevention specialist, I could no longer counsel young people about the use of drugs, because I had lost all objectivity. Over and over again, I saw teens abusing drugs and alcohol, while complaining about their parents’ use of the same substances. It was a seemingly endless cycle and I didn’t have the answers anymore. I couldn’t save anyone who didn’t want to save themselves. I fell apart. I left my job, reinvented myself, and then helped my family heal. It took years for my daughters to find some sense of balance in their lives. It took even longer for us to forgive and remember. Never forget.

    Mr. Hoffman leaves behind children of his own. What will this focus on addiction do to them? What scars that he never wished to inflict on anyone are now etched into his children’s hearts? This sucks for them. It sucks for the mother of his children. I don’t want any of them to feel the pain we felt. The shame. The residual guilt of what else we could have done to save him. And the blame. The blame is ugly.

    For those who think that we can save a person from addiction and/or mental illness unless they sincerely want to be rescued is just plain foolish. That’s called enabling. For those who think that it’s all about will power and choice, you’re off the mark. Until it hits you in the gut, you won’t get it. But for those who reach out with empathy for the ones who suffer or are yet to suffer, like Hugh did in his initial post, you are the brave ones asking all the difficult questions that desperately need answers. Thank you for taking that risk. Drugs scare me, too. But denial scares me more.

    Before I read your post and rambled on in response, this was my initial painful take on the loss of Mr. Hoffman:

    While so many of us feel a great loss, how or why Mr. Hoffman died is really none of our business. That said, for me, his personal triumphs speak the loudest. His ability to bravely touch the hearts and minds of the masses through his craft is stunningly touching. This is giftedness at its finest. For this, I am exceedingly grateful.

    If we must speak of drugs and addiction, let’s do so with empathy for Mr. Hoffman’s family and for all those who are impacted by the virulence of addiction. No one wants to be an addict. If there has to be a “teaching moment” in all this (somewhere within the pain of loss), perhaps may be found here:

    I hope this helps a little.

  44. Drug-taking is dangerous. Then again, so are mountain-climbing and cave-diving. The sole difference is that society frowns on pharmaceutical junkies but approves of adrenalin junkies.

    1. I appreciate your point, what’s the difference between addiction to legal things vs illegal things, which is why I think leaving the legality of things out of the issue helps clarify things. Addiction to anything, legal or illegal, is destructive – addiction throws reason out the window, it throws your life out the window, addiction becomes the beginning, the end and everything in-between. If you must chase crack or BASE-jumping, to the extent it hurts your life, your relationship, your ability to look after yourself, it’s dangerous (in my view).

  45. A lot of people here, including you Hugh, are still talking about teaching with fear. I don’t believe fear is ever an effective teaching tool. It is great for manipulation and control, but terrible for really getting someone to learn and understand.

    If people really want to be honest they have to allow for the fact that drugs have a place in this world. For some people, at some times, some drugs are a gateway to another form of perception that is not about a “good high” but allows you to change and grow as a person. The problem is that “drugs” are not all the same and are themselves not the destination, they are vehicles, and most of those vehicles are always in danger of crashing. Many of them are such unsafe vehicles that you could crash it and die the first time you ride it. If that vehicle were physically real, would you get into it, even if it would bring you someplace great? By showing our kids what different drugs have done to different people, and also teaching them our own experiences, we will give them the information to make the hopefully right decisions for themselves.

    I will not hesitate to tell my children about my experiences with drugs. Because most times I did drugs recreationally it was dull or terrible, but every time I did them to explore something in myself, it was mind altering (in a good way). I’m only talkng about pot and mushrooms though, and I’m talking about rare occasions. The three times I did mushrooms for personal exploratioin, each about five years apart, were huge events in my life as far as growing my perception, empathy, and feeling for the world around me. I would not give up those experiences for anything. Although, now I have come to realize, other things, “safer” things, could have also gotten me to the same destination over time. Drugs are only kinds of vehicles. They just happen to be a more direct route. But with speed comes danger.

    If you will indulge another metaphor, there is way I felt about my experience with drugs that later in life I heard the great philosopher Alan Watts put into words nicely. He, like the genius Mr. Frank Zappa, was someone most people assumed did a lot of drugs, but he did not. He had tried drugs, and some experiences opened up his mind, but he saw the limits of the method. So his message to people was, “When you get the message, hang up the phone.”

    I’ve hung up the phone, but I’m glad I made those calls. So be careful before you burn the whole phonebook.

    1. Is it fear though? Or is it just teaching respect? I don’t fear electricity for example, but as I know it can kill me (ie. sticking metal knives in the toaster for a mundane example), I certainly respect it.

  46. Good advice. Another option is not to drink or do drugs either. I don’t drink and my kids know that so they don’t live with the contradiction of a parent who drinks but tells them not to and vice versa. I walk the walk and talk the talk. They also know why I don’t drink – because my mother was an alcoholic – and they know my relationship with her sucks because of it. So there are other ways to show how bad drugs and drinking are.

  47. Much to be said for a bullshit free approach to society’s addictions. Just the other night Robert Evans’ bio documentary ‘The Kid Stays in the Picture’ was on TV, where he talks about being busted big time over his cocaine addiction and how his standing was somewhat rehabilitated by his court ordered ‘High on Life’ public campaign – a campaign that in typical Hollywood style sold a image and story that was a fictional fantasy.

    Chasing artificial highs is what addiction is all about, it’s the ultimate consumer product – manufactured ecstasy on demand, and just like the rodent with the pleasure centre of its brain electrode connected to an external switch, you’ll keep flipping that switch to the exclusion of all else until you die from exhaustion, hunger, and sheer terror of it not being so easy to live in that quickly dying moment.

    What’s not scary is that people like Hoffman die from their addictions, what’s scary is that it could just as easily be me, you or anyone else, for giving in to an understandable (but self-destructive) temptation.

  48. Hey Hugh,
    I grok you. Having worked in law enforcement for over twenty-five years, I saw it all, and then I wrote about it in my book. Back in the day, the rich kids had cocaine, the poor kids had crack. Then came meth, and now heroin is back in full force – gotten sooo much cheaper! (I don’t include pot because that’s just silly.) And, it wasn’t initially about the rebellion or the friends’ influence, or the escapism. It was about how easy it was to get addicted. It was immediate – you couldn’t stop it. You did anything to get it. And, ultimately, you hung out with the people doing it. Your parents did it, your friends did it, so why not? And, the “War on Drugs Campaign?” It was ridiculous. A lot of talk by politicians. Ultimately, it’s up to the parents and the kid to see through all the rhetoric. It’s scary to think that my son will be faced with those choices when he gets older. We try to set a good example, but friends are important, and who knows what may happen. I can only hope that he will have a great sense of self and that he will love his body too much to put that stuff in it.

  49. My parents “taught” me not to want to drink, take drugs (tons and tons of prescription), and spend frivolously by doing it all themselves. I saw how embarrassing my mom got when she had one too much too drink at a family party and therefore as a result I never wanted to drink. Since I’ve got my own kids and don’t have these vices in me to teach my own kids, you present a really good alternative I never really thought of. Thank you for that.

  50. “Personally I’ll be explaining that the trouble with drugs is that it’s a lottery and that top prize is that you get to feel great for about an hour and then don’t die alone having torn out the hearts of those who once loved you. That’s the best thing you can win in the drugs lottery – and lots of people do win the grand prize. Lucky them. But if you don’t win that top prize then you get one of the other exciting prizes on offer. Prizes include but are not limited to – loss of job, divorce, bankruptcy, humiliation, homelessness, permanent psychosis, incontinence, premature dementia – so many brilliant prizes on offer, who wouldn’t want a ticket for that…. And you don’t get to choose your ticket – your ticket is marked for you before you ever pick up the drugs. There is only one thing worse than dying of addiction, and that is living with addiction. ”


    I have five daughters. Only one, of which I am aware, is enjoying the experimentation of youth. Only one has decided that this is her way of coping with her life.

    At this point, she is limited to weed…and the occasional outlier that kids are doing these days, which is OD’ing on cough medicine.

    One of her friends swallowed a bottle of Effexor, so I suppose I should be thankful.

    But, the real problem is not the drugs. In my opinion, it is shoe-horning creative types into conforming with ‘polite society’. It is forcing our children to attend indoctrination camps that feed them the anti-drug rhetoric and not instruct them in how to make decisions using critical thinking.

    Four of my daughters followed the ‘normal’ and ‘accepted’ path of going to school, where they faced daily people who try to get them into the drug culture. They had resisted, and I am sure that they will excel at being the average person our society creates.

    The other one, the rebel, the seeker, is more about independence. She ‘THINKS’ things through, and experiments to validate her own internal hypotheses.

    Which is the better path? It is not for us to judge this, if we are honest, and understanding of nature and the Universe, correct?

    But, the perceived suffering and unhappiness tug at us.

    I don’t want any of my children to suffer, but it is not up to me to make their choices. I can provide anecdotes, experience, and wisdom – often this all falls on deaf ears.

    Is this a failure, then? No. It is life. Unfortunate, complex, and fragile for all of us.

    We do our best, we protect and teach, but ultimately we are only observers of others.

  51. […] This Post is Bad for You. Don’t Read it. | Hugh Howey […]

  52. I’ve seen what drugs to do people. Even pot. Had two old boyfriend that smoked pot constantly. One of them actually rolled J’s to fill his Marlboro pack – just like cigarettes. They didn’t smoke like this when we first go together – Oh, no, no… otherwise I wouldn’t have made the commitment. Once I was completely involved – then the true colors came shining through (Thanks Cyndi Lauper). It didn’t take me long to realize that they were idiots to begin with but when stoned – douches. MEGA idiots. You couldn’t hold a conversation even for a minute. They became completely useless in all ways. I didn’t want to be around that and I certainly did not want to BE LIKE that or look like that.

    I am one of the lucky ones I guess – I only lasted several months on meth. It was OK at first but then I hated the smell, hated the way it made me feel, hated it period. As soon as I did a line, I immediately wanted to come down so I drank. I hated how I felt so I stopped doing it.

    Cocaine – ditto of meth. All total I probably wasted 4-5 years of my life with drugs. And that’s is exactly what it is – A WASTE – of time, your body, your health, everything you cannot get back, can’t go buy at the store or order online.

    But there are a gazillion people out there who won’t or can’t stop doing drugs.

    The only thing I was ever really addicted to were cigarettes and I have about half of my left lung remaining because of the years of smoking. I had my last cigarette the day of my surgery and after 18 days in hospital with double pneumonia I wasn’t a smoker anymore.

    It wasn’t worth it. But try telling that to an avid smoker or a heroine addict.

  53. […] all the articles I read about Hoffman’s death, the one by Hugh Howey, the self-publishing wizard of Wool fame, stood […]

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