Omission of ‘Coping Theory’ or Medicinal Theory’ in Present Day Discussion of Youth Substance Abuse

Our examination of the evolution of drug use over the course of US history has provided a plethora of rationales for different drug usages. Many of these rationales consider the social anxieties plaguing the country at the time in addition to means of physical and economic access. In examining how history recalls these occurrences, I hope to shed light on the current discussion of modern day drug use as it pertains to youth indulgence in marijuana and alcohol. 

‘The Hidden Epidemic: Opiate Addiction and Cocaine Use in the South,’ and ‘Medical Theories of Opiate Addictions Aetiology and their Relationship to Addicts Perceived Social Position’ walk through the social circumstances that may have influenced Americans’ use of opiates. ‘Hidden Epidemic’ acknowledges that rampant endemic disease such as cholera and diarrhea and widespread injury in the south as a result of Civil War casualties created an ideal atmosphere for individuals to use opium for their pain relieving effects. We see here historians providing medical reasoning for the use of opium. ‘Hidden Epidemic’ also highlights the changing social climate, particularly as it relates to the degenerate social status of plantation owners, as necessitating a drug that would numb emotional pain with a specific notion to ‘pervasive depression.’ Rather than attributing physical pain with drug use, historians recognize and thus validate emotional pain. On the other hand, cocaine use amongst blacks was explained by their need to remain awake for the long hours they worked. The source is unclear about whether blacks were introduced to cocaine by their bosses, or took the initiative themselves to indulge. Nevertheless, the source aims to hypothesize the external circumstances that could have promoted and maintained an interest in drugs to ultimately explain the difference in drug use across racial groups. 

‘Medical Theories’  dissects similar motivations for opiate drug use as it aims to draw correlations between the shift in demographic opiate abuse and medical practitioners’ perspectives of addiction and potential treatment. This secondary source analyzes a number of primary sources in the forms of medical articles to explain numerous theories. One such theory, coping theory, hypothesized that many white affluent businessmen utilized opiates to cope with the rigors of civilized life and demands of their work, particularly to assist with ‘completing their tasks and helping them fall asleep.’ Similar to Hidden Epidemic, this source acknowledges that opiates may have been used to ‘assuage physical or emotional difficulties.’ These perspectives however changed as the demographic which most abused opiates shifted to lower class minorities. In the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, physicians began to label addiction as an innate degeneracy, meaning that individuals with addictions inherited this mental defect and could not be cured. This comes at a time when primarily working, lower class whites were abusing opiates. Much later, in the 1960’s, we see the rise of communicable disease theory to describe heroin addiction as being sourced from exposure to host, agent, and environment. This theory is truly the first indication of drug abuse justified as a means of social relating. Here the physical and emotional necessities that prompted the earlier use of opiates is eliminated. We can understand this concept by reflecting on the role of alcohol in ‘The Alcohol Republic.’ Rorabaugh describes drinking as a very social occurrence with the establishment of gentlemen’s clubs, the prevalence of drinking at celebrations, and the association of the American Revolution with local taverns. It was clear that alcohol at the time was very much a part of the culture and so, external justifications for its indulgence was unnecessary. 

We can juxtapose these discussions with the perspectives that dominate the discussion on youth marijuana and alcohol abuse today. The general consensus is that teens indulge in marijuana use as a result of peer pressure and the glorification of the drug in music videos and other media forms. In fact, the rise of the term ‘social drinker’ is indicative of the manner in which many perceive youth to partake in substance abuse. Why is it that modern day purveyors of this topic fail to discuss the possible emotional or physical justifications of marijuana use. Both secondary sources discussed include references to primary source indicating that even at the time, the justifications for opiate abuse were recognized. With this information, we can not say that ‘time’ is needed for historians to realize the true meaning behind youth indulgence in marijuana. 

Despite a plethora of evidence suggesting marijuana can be used to treat menstrual pain, headaches, cancer related pain and other very general and common anxieties, this has been largely ignored by individuals who hold strong opposition against the use of marijuana. Similarly, despite significant scientific research attributing red wine and other types of alcohol to healthy heart activity, the primary discussion of alcohol use in youth revolves around social drinking or peer pressure. Perhaps as suggested by ‘Medical Theories,’ the particular race and class of those youth individuals indulging in marijuana has a large influence over this discussion…

1 thought on “Omission of ‘Coping Theory’ or Medicinal Theory’ in Present Day Discussion of Youth Substance Abuse

  1. I would agree with your final statement that race and class do heavily play into the discussion of why marijuana is still largely viewed as a more taboo drug while alcohol use is more socially acceptable, as we have now discussed in class more with chapters in Dufton’s book and having watched the 13th. In particular, this post also made me think of the 13th documentary and The New Jim Crow and the fact that the discussion of marijuana use remaining this way that stigmatizes it heavily allows for the systems to remain in place which criminalize marijuana and in effect keeps people of color in the prison system with all of the consequences that come as a result of this.

    I think that another major reason for the lack of physical and emotional justification for marijuana use that you talked about is fear, specifically on behalf of parents for the younger generations. We read in Grass Roots how the parent groups had significant power at certain points during their existence and the same idea applies here in that the same fears still exist about marijuana that it is harmful for youth and that children will be able to get it and that it is a gateway drug, so I think that the fear is also that if marijuana is spoken about in a more understanding and medical way, that the tides will turn towards legalization or decriminalization, which is what these groups and people are against, which is why this has not happened more in my opinion.

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