Drugs and Desire: Ingrid Walker at TEDxTacoma

Drugs and Desire: Ingrid Walker at TEDxTacoma

Translator: Lauren Smith
Reviewer: Theresa Ranft Good evening. I want to talk to you
about your drug use. Well, not just yours. Yours, mine, everyone’s. It’s an awkward subject
in the United States where we have very specific ideas about drugs, but we need to talk about it because our thinking about drugs is completely disconnected
from our behavior. It’s disconnected from our drug use. Let’s do a thought experiment: Close your eyes and imagine a drug user. OK, I want you to hold that image. We’ll come back to it. So let’s start at the beginning. For over 40 years the United States
has waged a devastating drug war. In that same period of time we’ve experienced an unprecedented boom in the pharmaceutical industry. The result of these two trends is that on the one hand
we’ve incarcerated millions of drug users while becoming the most medicated people in American history. How did we get to this conflicted place about drug use? And is it where we want to be? Let’s say, for the sake of conversation, “No, it’s not where we want to be.” The thing is, we can change our behavior
and our approach to drugs if we all change our thinking about drugs
and the desire to use them. Let me define what I mean by drugs because I’m sure by now
your mind is just skittering around. When I say drugs,
I mean psychoactive drugs. These are substances
that affect our thinking, our affect, and our behavior. They include amphetamines, cocaine, hallucinogens, marijuana, opiates, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and psychotherapeutic drugs like antidepressants and stimulants. We rarely think about these drugs
as an entire category. Instead, we tend to split them
into two different kinds of drugs. We think of good drugs and bad drugs, or we think of illegal drugs
and legal drugs. Cultural historian, Nancy Campbell,
says that we tend to think of them as problem-solving drugs and problem-causing drugs. You know what I mean. (Laughter) These are socially created
attitudes and categories. They don’t tell us very much
about the effects of these drugs, but they tell us a great deal
about what we think about drugs. So what are good drugs and bad drugs? Well, let’s start with our stories
about good drugs. We tell ourselves the good drugs
are problem-solving drugs, medically necessary
or harmlessly pleasant. (Laughter) They’re readily available in two ways: we either get access, openly available, the caffeine you had this morning
or the beer you have at dinner, or we have to seek them
through a prescription, a physician’s consent. Ask your doctor, we do a lot. It’s common. It turns out that even just
a tiny subset of good drugs, the American Psychological Association says that of the psychotherapeutic drugs, use has risen 22% in the last decade. That means that one out of five of you are on at least one
of these substances right now. Or across the country, 51 million people. Another 7 million use them
without the consent of a physician. Consider another good drug: alcohol. A hundred years ago
it was a contested substance. Now, cultural attitudes have changed and we look back
on that period of alcohol prohibition as a misguided attempt to control the desire
of millions of Americans to drink. In fact, we celebrate the use of alcohol. We serve it at our social functions, we give it as gifts to family
and complete strangers, and we expect it to be
at most of our meals. In other words,
alcohol is a psychoactive drug whose use has become normative
for most Americans. It’s a good drug. Bad drugs… Well, the stories we tell ourselves
about bad drugs are that they are problem causing. They are criminal, dangerous, addictive. They’re not for medical use. In fact, we use them to avoid reality
or to escape responsibility. They are a one-way ticket
to self-destruction. Our media is full of the horror stories of the users of bad drugs. Do you remember the frying egg? (Chuckles) Well since then, we’ve had crack babies, meth tweakers, coke heads, junkies. Their ravaged faces have been plastered all over public service announcements in Hollywood and television programs for decades. We know what happens
to people who use bad drugs. Or do we? When I talk about drugs and desire,
people make two assumptions: they assume I’m talking about
illicit substances and they assume
that if you desire a substance you can’t control
your use of that substance. For the majority of users
of psychoactive substances in the United States, it turns out that is wrong. The National Institute of Health does an annual survey
of alcohol and drug use. And in that survey,
for just illicit drug users, they note that 22.5 million users use regularly, and of them, an average of 18% are addicted
to whatever substances they’re using, because it’s a whole category
of illicit substances. I say 18.5% is an average
because it ranges from 10% to 30% depending on the exact drug. Of the 131 million users of alcohol, 11% become addicted. Hmm… Addiction is a real issue and many Americans struggle with it. It is also a serious social concern because of all psychoactive drugs
15 to 30% of users become addicted. The exception is nicotine: 80% of nicotine users become addicted. But I think it’s important
to realize two things. The first is: when I talk about this subject
people often react right about now, and the reason is that you probably know
somebody who struggles with addiction. I do, and I have compassion for that suffering. On the other hand,
it’s important to realize that if 15-30% of the users
of psychoactive drugs become addicted that means that 70-85% of the users don’t. That means that 70-85% of users
of psychoactive drugs are controlled users. It’s almost hard to believe
because we never hear that. Instead, we tend to focus
on the people who are addicted, which is a very tiny subset
of a very tiny subset. But like a researcher
in chemical dependence said to me – his name is Robert Whitney – “It’s like the flu, the virus is all around you
but not everybody gets it.” So on the spectrum of people who abstain
and the people who are addicted are all the other users. And what are they using? Well, of the psychoactive drugs
that we could possibly use and the ones we hear
the most about are illicit drugs. Under 9% of the users
of all psychoactive drugs use those illegal drugs. Another 15.7% use
pharmaceuticals, non-medically, so recreational or repurposed
for other reasons. We’ll talk about that in a minute. Another 20% use
pharmaceuticals as prescribed. And then there are the majority of users, over 50% who use alcohol
and over 68% who use nicotine. The thing to notice is the majority of these drugs
are socially approved. And in fact, the majority of the users
of these drugs, of all of them, use in a controlled fashion. So I have to ask, can millions of happy,
controlled drug users be wrong? (Laughter) We’re all users. Whether you run seven miles
to feel energized or to shake your stress. Whether you smoke that bowl
before you go to a movie with your buddy. Whether you drink that bottle,
or bottles of wine with your family. Or you eat a handful of mushrooms
to go out on a hike. Or maybe you just have to have that first, second, and fifth cup
of coffee in the morning. We’re all users and our practice reveals
how we want to live. I want to talk about one substance
and three sets of users to kind of illustrate
what I’m talking about. Psychostimulants have become
a much more prescribed drug over the last ten years. They’re typically prescribed
for psychological disorders, or people who have something
like Attention Deficit Disorder. And so a lot of teenagers
and college students use these drugs. So do their friends because everyone has figured out
these are “performance enhancing” drugs. In other words, they help you focus
for an extended period of time. If you go to the library
in a college campus within two minutes
you can have Ritalin or Adderall and can sit down to study
for your exams or write a paper. It’s a common practice. Well, the first set of users
I want to talk about are elementary school children because the parents
of those teenagers and college students have figured out
they have an academic edge. In fact, they now call
those drugs “smart drugs.” They’re going to their pediatricians and asking for their middle school
and elementary school children to be put on these drugs. Not because they evidence
the symptoms of ADD but because they want
that performance enhancement. So, I wonder if these parents know that one of the most prescribed drugs
is an amphetamine. These same parents would be horrified if their children turn to methamphetamine. But as the parent of one
elementary school child who had a dramatic turnaround
after being put on this drug said, “Well, she was miserable,
so she wasn’t doing her school work, and she was completely socially withdrawn. Now she’s happy, she’s excelling at her school work
and she’s socially active. Why not?” Why not, indeed. The second group of users
I’ll talk about are professional athletes. If college students figured this out you know that professional
athletes have figured out that performance enhancement
is a good thing. And some leagues have decided
to allow the use of this drug with the prescription of a doctor. Suddenly, across Major League Baseball, every other player has ADD. It’s crazy. The thing is, who can blame them? If I had to play
over 180 games (Chuckling) over the year, that went on
for hours and hours and sometimes extra innings, I would want a stimulant too. (Laughter) The third group of users
are writers and thinkers. Historically, some of our most famous
philosophers and writers have openly used amphetamines
and have extolled their purpose. For the same reason
that the college kids, the high school kids,
the professional athletes, want to use them. They help refine focus, they help you focus
for extended periods of time. So, writers like W.H. Auden
or Graham Greene, or thinkers like Jean-Paul Sartre,
are famous for their amphetamine use. Lots of writers use them,
including this writer. When people come and tell me about the propaganda they’ve heard
about methamphetamine, people who have clearly
never tried the drug, I sometimes will say, “I wrote my dissertation in nine months with the occasional help
of methamphetamine. It was a really functional drug,
it worked for me.” So here’s my question: Does it matter, if I’m a controlled user does it matter if I use
to get my work done? If I use to feel good? Does it matter if you use
to avoid feeling bad? Or your friend uses to have
an introspective spiritual experience? Does it matter if we all use
because we want to be celebratory and feel intoxicated? Our practices reveal how we want to live. The majority of users are controlled users All of them. They are your teachers, your mentors, your friends, your neighbors. Cultural norms are learned. We create them and we can change them. I’ll drink to that. (Applause)


  1. Favorite drugs: Caffeine, Nicotine, and Adrenaline!
    and liquor…
    and weed…
    and whores…
    oh god i have a problem…

  2. The majority of aphetamine users are controled users!

    I doubt that. Source?

    Hasnt she seen the ted talk about how statistics are bullshit?

  3. Even the UN in their World Drug Report 2012 admit that only about 12% of all illegal drug users display any physical, mental or social problems related to their use. So I'd say she's pretty much right.

  4. Thank you for share this vídeo. I just link this to a paper with the title: Interview with D. Bernardo Ruiz about addiction treatment

  5. Ridiculous. Addiction is only a problem when and because the drug(s) isn't readily available. I must have an addiction problem because I can't go a second without oxygen….wtf. People should have the right to put whatever they want to THEIR bodies.

  6. woman you become psychotic at the age of 12 fall down the rabbit hole become suicidal w/ major depression, OCD, Bipolar Disorder, crippling anxiety and make your speech then.

  7. This seems pretty misleading.  Assuming her statistics are correct – they do not help in understanding what might be going on.  A person that starts casually using cocaine or drinking pretty heavily will fit her statistics until they don’t anymore.  So for 9 years they are a “controlled user” and then in year 10 they get a DUI, lose a job, lose a spouse, ruin a family’s finances or some other major consequence that (since they continue to use) puts them into the “not a controlled user” column.  From individuals like this contributing to yearly statistics we can end up with numbers like 90% of users are “controlled users”.  Instead we have a 100% “not a controlled user” that contributed very positively to a “controlled users” statistic.

  8. WOW. This lady is seriously misinformed. This is one of the most ridiculous talks to date. Addiction is a complex issue, no doubt. However it is not a small subset of a small subset who are affected.
    I doubt Methamphetamine is something that many people would be able to use recreationally.

  9. Was she openly glorifying amphetamine use for "performance enhancement"? I really dont know what to take from this…

  10. What I take from this is we are putting our teachers, writers, brothers and sisters in prison because of social norms.

  11. There is no such thing as a bad drug, a drug is a drug. Now there is plenty of bad as well as good behavior associated with drugs. Many people can use a drug w/ no problem a minority cannot. The speaker talks about a psychoactive experience with drugs which is based on a synthetic experience. In that case watching a movie, playing video games and watching TV are all synthetic experiences. I know people that spend more than 8hrs. watching TV or playing video games some do it high on drugs. With these types of activities people have become disconnected from one on one healthy relationships. Leading to isolation and depression and possibly a doctor that will prescribe a drug (many of the anti-depression meds do not work) but people in this fast paced, getter done world we live in, we want a fast n easy solution to problems. Some solutions are found in the truth and giving back to the world, leaving it in better shape than when we arrived. Peace

  12. She makes great points. However, all you people in the comment section are saying that meth and coke are hard to use recreationally are 100% correct, but she is aware of that. The speech has time limits, and I'm sure if time was unlimited she would have dove into personalities and certain psychographics that are "more prone" to drug addiciton than the casual user. Yes, there is a huge problem concerning the 30% of people struggling for their lives, but the focus of the talk was targeted to the 70% who may receive judgement and questioning for their regulated and careful actions. Just think about the last time someone went on a rant about why so and so shouldn't be taking adderall to study for the SAT; Their argument when you asked them "and why is that so?" is "because it's just wrong" or something along those lines. Everyone has their own unique opinion. Personally, if it's not a health concern and it improves your quality of life, then why fucking not?

  13. This is really an example of “good ethics” and good reasoning”: 80% of happy user can't
    be wrong. I wonder where i've heard that argument before. The pharmaceutical industry?
     It took my son several months to taper off these nice and useful meds and it almost cost him his career. But don't worry, She's working at a University and surly
    knows what she is talking about.

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    Don't wait until its tоo lаtе where there is lifeeee thеre is hope рeeeeace аnd blessings!

  15. 10:30 Excelling in school does not necessarily mean being able to think for yourself. There is a huge difference between being told what to think and how to think. It probably just means you are a good repeater, or regurgitator, of Common "Communist" Core precepts. Besides, much of what is taught in school is fundamentally incorrect, and lot of significant knowledge, which is contained in the archeological record, is also suppressed by the powers that be.

  16. i found her little laughs and smirks annoying. as the mother of an adult heroin addict, this talk seems useless.

  17. Ok I prefer to see people who haven't rehearsed their speech in front of a fkn mirror & in front of their friends who are stupid enough & careless enough to say yeah that's great

  18. Drugs prescribed by physicians is as bad if not worse than Street drugs. Sadly, we as a society condemn the drug users and justify their counterpart making their use of drugs socially acceptable.
    Both sets of people are drawn to and use their drug of choice. The drug that feels good to them, the drug that blankets them, gives them a sense of normalness that eases them and gets them through the day.
    Unfortunately, drugs are just a temporary fix, a bandage that covers what could be a serious unresolved, unknown, undiagonised or untreated medical, mental, social or psychological condition, diseases, or disorders.
    Both sets of users are in desperate need to heal, concur and overcome their issues. Then, They will be drug free and have no use or Need for any Pharmaceuticals or recreational street drugs.

  19. Wow how did she make it on ted?! I am not a user. I have never used to get out of a funk… I had a great childhood with a mentally strong and stable father. I honestly believe this is key to a strong future.

  20. a handful of Ritalin or Adderall to study?? lady, that's not what people do. you take maybe 1 or 2 or even half a pill depending on the dose, especially to study. and nobody on Earth besides an uneducated teenager just munches down a handful (you really like this word) of mushrooms to go on a hike . Psilocybin shrooms are very strong dried and not something you just take for a hike, especially without weighing out a dose. I hope you are more educated 6 years since this video, Ingrid.😕😬

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