10,000 / 1,500 / 15: Breaking the Silence on Responsible Drug Use
May 2013
Pie chart: My first 10,000 days of living included

This article is a sub-section of another article which discusses the messages of my comics War on Drugs and Rat Park.

Breaking the Silence on Responsible Drug Use

Here’s the deal: I’m 27 years old, which means I have been alive on this planet for 10,000 days.

During that time, I used alcohol on about 1,500 days. Additionally, I used caffeine (from tea) about 1,500 times.

Also during that time, I used ‘magic’ mushrooms 7 times, cannabis 4 times, MDMA 3 times, and LSD 1 time. That’s a total of 15 days where I used illicit recreational drugs. And you know what? I had positive experiences on all occasions.

Graph of days sober, using alcohol and illegal recreational drugs by 27 year old Stuart McMillen.
There is a two orders-of-magnitude difference between the two groups of drugs (1,500 versus 15). Yet why does it somehow seem sleazier, naughtier or more ‘wrong‘ to admit to using the second group of drugs?

Big questions

Why is it natural for people to assume that I wasn’t paralytically drunk for all of the 1,500 times I used alcohol? That most of the time I merely had a quiet drink or two?

Why is it natural for people to assume that I was chronically inebriated for all of the 15 times I used illegal drugs? That I was somehow gambling with my life, spiralling out of control, by recklessly pumping poison through my veins?

Why do we recognise that people can drink alcohol responsibly, yet automatically associate all illegal drug use with ‘misuse’?

Why are all drugs developed after the discovery of alcohol automatically prohibited and feared?

Why do Westerners scoff at Islamic laws forbidding the drinking of alcohol, yet see nothing odd about our own laws which forbid the consumption of drugs which aren’t alcohol?

Why do we understand that alcohol can be both good and bad? Why do we find it acceptable for a newspaper to contain reports about alcohol-fuelled violence, and also ‘fine wine’ reviews? Yet any mention of people enjoying recreational drugs is accused of ‘sending the wrong message’?

Why do we think that legalising drugs would automatically lead to people drug-driving and arriving to work stoned? Why do we assume that floodgates will be opened, and all lawfulness and decency will be swept away?

Three drug pills black and white illustration.

Speaking out

Although I’ve written about drugs through my two comics, this is the first time I’ve publicly disclosed my personal drug-taking history. I thought this information could be helpful to other people, in the same way cartoonist Allie Brosh recently disclosed her personal experiences with depression.

Perhaps the reason I’m so comfortable discussing drugs is because drugs aren’t a big deal for me. I don’t compulsively crave them, and I’ve never compulsively craved them. In fact, as I get older I’m becoming more and more bored with my country’s all-occasions obsession with alcohol.

So why should I speak out about drugs at all? Why should I publish this article which essentially admits that I am a criminal?

The reason is this: because my experiences are the norm. They are the mainstream. They are the rule, and not the exception.

In my country, Australia, a significant minority of the population has used illegal drugs. This figure becomes a slight majority in certain age groups. While some people can have problems with drug addiction – and I certainly don’t want to diminish their struggles – the mainstream experience is one of moderation. Typically, Australians have a few drug experiences in their twenties. They then either move on with their lives totally, or continue low-level usage throughout the rest of their lives, perhaps by saving drug-taking for special occasions.

Marijuana and ecstasy are particularly popular in Australia. Yet most ecstasy users restrict their intake to only 1-2 days per year. This is hardly the nightmarish stuff of destitution and addiction. If anything, it’s almost sickeningly responsible

3 pills cartoon black and white.

An argument with two sides and a vacuum

I chose to write about drugs because the responsible drug users are the mainstream, not the fringe. Yet in this ‘man bites dog‘ journalism climate, the only stories that get reported are those of overdoses and addictions.

I don’t want to dismiss these sad stories: they are tragedies. But they are also outliers. And often symptomatic of other psychological problems, or unintended side-effects of drug prohibition laws.

In the eye of the media there are two ‘sides’ to the drug issue: the anti-drug ‘moral majority’ (who usually don’t seem like they’ve ever tried drugs), and the enthusiastic users (who often seem overly-fixated on drug-taking).

There is a massive vacuum of silence from responsible drug users which allows these two extreme positions to be the only two alternatives in the way the public conceives the drug issue. What’s missing are the voices of the responsible, occasional drug users. Without their voices in the mix, the words of the chronic Cheech & Chong-types play right into the hands of the anti-drug brigade.

Three drug pills black and white illustration.

Why me?

“Why speak out?” “What’s the point of rocking the boat?” That was my mentality 12 months ago. But after reading Australian author Lisa Pryor’s excellent A Small Book About Drugs (2011), I immediately flipped perspective.

Instead I asked myself “why not me?”

A Small Book About Drugs by Lisa Pryor 2011

I’m not trying to glorify drug use. In fact, I’m trying to do the exact opposite. I’m trying to show what a minor part of my life that drugs play. By speaking out in a clear-headed way, perhaps I can help change things for the people who are trampled by our current drug criminalisation laws.

Should I admit this?

Yes, I am a little nervous about declaring this to the world for the first time. Yes, I wonder what will happen when I press the ‘publish’ button on this article. (What’s that white van doing out the front of my house!?)

But if no one speaks out, the silence just lasts longer and nothing changes. I see this admission like being an unmarried person in the 1950s speaking about living with their partner. Yes, cohabitation was illegal in many parts of the world, but these laws were largely wiped off the books by brave people willing to break the taboo.

Unjust laws which criminalise large sections of the population lose legitimacy once those affected speak up. One by one society sees that it is not just faceless wrongdoers and ne’er-do-wells who could be punished by the laws. It is family and friends.

So here I am: a responsible drug-user – albeit primarily alcohol and caffeine – sharing my story.

Three round pills drawing.

Start a conversation

Feel free to use this article as the basis of starting a conversation with your friends and family.

The further the conversation spills beyond those who you might normally discuss drugs with, the better.

The point isn’t to see who has the most notches on their belt, but rather to discuss what you’ve done, what you haven’t done, what was good, and what was bad.

The more we talk, the less scary it becomes. Start a conversation.

This article is a sub-section of another article which discusses the messages of my comics War on Drugs and Rat Park.