Friday, January 3, 2014

Lonny Shavelson's "Hooked" from a Sociological Perspective

     The most glaring challenges encountered by individuals in Lonny Shavelson’s Hooked present themselves almost as paradoxes. The first is the urge to use drugs for the dual purposes of celebrating one’s successes and as a cure for feeling upset, anxious, or worried, and as a relief for depression following an episode of failure. The second is convincing oneself that it would be beneficial to temporarily resume taking drugs either as a way to relieve the stresses of attempting to quit the drug, to test one’s tolerance and find out whether the time spent without the drug will allow one to return to a consistent but less intense pattern of drug use safely, or to assert that the use of the drug is acceptable because going several weeks without drugs is enough to convince a former hard-core addict that it is almost as if they no longer do drugs anyway.
One challenge that seems difficult for a recovering substance addict to overcome is the sheer availability of drugs and the ease the addicts have obtaining them. Although she resisted all three temptations, we saw with Darlene that along with finding drugs by chance comes an urge to consume them, or else an urge to put them to good use – in a manner of speaking – i.e. by selling them or giving them away. Another male mentioned in the book relapsed when his friends offered him free alcohol and cocaine.
Another challenge is for a recovering addict to avoid people and places associated with their patterns of drug use. For many of the addicts mentioned, the treatment facilities which they were supposed to visit with some regularity were in or near those parts of town where they knew they could obtain drugs with little effort or risk and without anyone else finding out, as in the example of Mike and his connection at the 16th & Mission BART station, which was two blocks from a treatment facility.
For Crystal, simply visiting the facility in her neighborhood was enough to get her noticed by those individuals with whom she had relatively recently sold, bought, and consumed drugs. In situations like that, Crystal would lose control of her refusal skills as she accepts her friends’ offers, and let one thing lead to another. Knowing that ceasing to take part in such activities may cause friends to disappear or react with disapproval or condescension could very well have been one of her causes for relapsing.
Another challenge is how to remove the desire for using and abusing illicit substances to self-medicate, that is, cure emotional pain, psychological trauma, and block out negative memories from a person with a troubled past who also has multiple and / or severe drug addictions. We see that Mike suffers from guilt from not preventing the abuse of his sister as a child, that Glenda had a traumatic experience involving her mother’s alcoholism-induced death, and that Darlene had been raped in her adulthood multiple times. Also, we see that both Darlene in her relationship with William (p. 290) and Crystal in her relationship with Tony (chapter 12) struggle with abusive relationships during the time period covered by the book, and it appears obvious that the drug abuse and addiction of all partners are likely making those relationships less healthy and less stable.
A challenge that was evident from Darlene’s experience with the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic (chapter 14) was how to begin reducing substance abuse and providing mental health care for a person who does not respond positively to confrontation. As Dr. Pablo Stewart says during the clinic’s argument concerning Darlene’s violent gesture at a staff member (p. 286), “…you learn to calm the clients down, not… accelerate things until we’ve got to throw them out.” Darlene’s behavior is often unpredictable, she is blunt about her thoughts and feelings, and she has no qualms about appearing contemptuous of people who want to help her curb her drug intake, nor about appearing less than optimistic about the possibility that any progress can be made. That is precisely why the methods of a program like Walden House, which would react to a relapse by Darlene in a way that would undoubtedly frighten, frustrate, and anger her into never again returning, is likely to fail when an individual with an extreme case of substance abuse – in this case, in conjunction with psychological disorders – requests the help of the program.
     The problems presented in Hooked that seemed to have obvious solutions were the addicts’ lack of adequate housing, education and vocational training, and their non-drug-related health care problems. It seems that if these addicts’ housing situations, physical fitness, and life skills could be on par with at least the worst-off citizens who do not suffer from substance abuse and / or psychological problems, they would likely be well on their way to recovery, if only they exhibit optimism, enthusiasm, willingness, perseverance, and patience towards the programs, substance abuse and mental health counselors, and case workers that treat and assist them. It also seemed obvious that – as in Pablo Stewart’s view – it should be imperative that those programs and professionals coordinate with one another and make referrals (p. 54).
     One of the most poignant moments of Hooked comes when Crystal tells the Iris Center that she is there “to work on the biological, social, psychological, and spiritual issues around [her] addiction,” followed by the group’s applause (p. 239). Crystal appeared to have a definite readiness and willingness to improve and discover herself from relatively early on in the process, and simply being able to say something like that, especially in front of a large group of people, is probably an early indicator of success.
     I appreciated Darlene’s and Mike’s cases the most because of the controversy they caused, both in the mind of myself as the reader, and in the minds of people around them. I feel like Mike even convinced me that he could return to heroin just once more after going so many months without it, and that he could manage to do it safely and not do it again. Glenda’s story was also powerful, with its allusions to disturbing medical conditions, highways littered with broken bottles, and the blatantly unnecessary despair and suffering borne by the two individuals, Glenda and her mother, that is embedded so deeply in the American historical framework.

     I have not had experiences with individuals with such traumatic pasts, nor such severe addictions or mental problems as those in this book, but I am not foreign to hearing about such problems. I know a person who suffers from persistent hallucinations, mild alcoholism, and post-traumatic stress disorder coupled with emotional issues resulting from his inappropriate, involuntary commitment to an abusive boot camp for teenage delinquents. He claims to have recently sought medication for his alcoholism only to have the health professional become suspicious that he was being swindled for drugs, and also claims to have gone to a mental health facility to seek alcoholism treatment only to be told he may as well submit to being strapped down for the treatment, and he was threatened by the staff member that the police would be called if he did not submit to the staff’s procedure.

Originally written in July 2009 as a college essay

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