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Why we really do drugs

In Health and Healing, Health and Nutrition by Jost Sauer1 Comment

We are destined to live colourful, spontaneous and cosmically connected lives, and we are supposed to be expressive, eccentric, independent and uncaring of what the rest of society thinks of us. There is a way to get altered states, enhanced senses, a powerful feeling of belonging to a community and to the cosmos, without drugs.


The following article is the first of a series of articles excerpted from Jost’s latest book, The Rebels Guide to Recovery. He’s offering this book serialised as a gift to all LivingNow readers. It will transform your life, whether you are a drug addict or just a ‘bit’ addicted to alcohol, work, food –or anything.

What did you get right on drugs? It’s not the standard first question to clients at a drug recovery clinic. In fact, it’s such a radical departure from the standard script that I usually get a blank stare. The recovery industry revolves around the idea of malfunction, but if nothing actually went wrong, that approach doesn’t work.

There is a new drug-using demographic –people aged anywhere from 12 to 60, who are rich, poor, old, young, happy, unhappy, male, female, successful, failures, from broken homes or from happy homes –who just like to feel good. With this as a starting point for drug use, it makes sense to look at what went right.

‘Revolutionary’ is probably the best word to describe this approach, because it does entail overthrowing the old model. And it’s old. Most current recovery programs are based on ideas that emerged over a century ago. We no longer ride around in horse-drawn wagons or tap away on typewriters, so why use equally outdated approaches to recovery? It’s high time for an overhaul.

Debunking the old myths about why you take drugs is a good place to start. As everyone who has been through counselling or a rehab program knows, identifying ‘why’ you did it is always the focus. As it is automatically assumed that something must have gone wrong, the answer is inevitably one of the following: you were trying to escape reality, or cope with pain; or you are diseased, self-destructive, have low self-esteem or other psychological problems.

‘Drug users are just escaping reality’, is usually stated in an accusatory tone, as if there is something wrong with this. But reality, as most people experience it, is generally so ordinary that, in my opinion, there is something wrong if you donwant to escape it.When the police catch runaway prisoners they never say to them, ‘Oh, you’re just trying to escape prison’. It is expected that you’d flee if you got the chance. But if you take drugs or indulge in any other activity to ‘escape reality’ everybody gets upset. I believe it is our duty to escape reality and seek an extraordinary life. How we do this should be the issue, not why.

The idea that drug users are trying to cope with deep-seated pain –usually the ‘unhappy childhood’ variety –is another flawed assumption. If that were really the cause of addiction, I think there would be many more addicts. Growing up can be an unpleasant process, for anyone: you’re short, powerless, and your true nature is being systematically suppressed so that you can fit into the accepted limited version of reality.But not everyone takes drugs as a result. Over the years I’ve treated people for every condition imaginable. Some who adored every moment of their childhoods became heroin addicts. Others who had terrible, abusive childhood experiences never even tried a drug.

Another outdated but still popular theory is that drug users are self-destructive. Well, I spent a couple of decades taking drugs myself, followed by a couple more decades specialising in addiction recovery, and I’ve never met anyone who started out with a self-destructive intent. No one gets up one day and thinks to themselves, ‘Hmmm, what a good day to ruin my life; I think I’ll become an addict and an outcast and lie around in gutters’.

More likely, one day a friend or relative offered them marijuana or a pill; they tried it, and then felt even better than usual. Because we live in a world in which drug use is normal and drug imagery and references saturate popular culture, doing it again also seems normal. It is feeling better than normal that kicks off a drug journey. So it is an adventurous and exploratory nature that drives people to repeat drugs, not self-destructive impulses. While the eventual outcome of extensive drug use is definitely destructive, the initial intent is not. This is an important distinction.

It is also commonly accepted that drug users have low self-worth. But these days low self-worth is generally how someone feels after doing lots of drugs, not how they feel before taking up drugs. The belief that low self-worth is a cause for addiction continues because health professionals are still running on the old script, and because they confuse presenting symptoms with cause. This is an easy mistake to make as, by the time you do seek help for drug issues, you’re probably not coming across as a model citizen. You’re more likely to be paranoid, twitching and rambling, with the obligatory low opinion of yourself thrown in. If you saw streams of clients in this state, you would naturally assume low self-worth and other psychological problems to be a cause.

Then there is the idea that drug users are diseased. This makes no sense to me. A book I read a while back described how, during the Cultural Revolution in China, Mao had all the addicts rounded up and told that they could either quit drugs or be shot. Needless to say, they all quit on the spot. No problem. In the author’s opinion this proved that addiction was not a disease because you could not do that with a group of people who had, say, smallpox. I tend to agree. In my opinion the ‘addiction as disease’ model is defeatist. It doesn’t give you anything to move forward to, whereas looking at what you got right on drugs, does.

It is your duty to escape reality and seek an extraordinary life

Why we really do drugs

There is no great mystery behind why people take drugs; they make you feel good, and everybody likes that. Drugs also reveal the multiple dimensions that make up reality, and I would argue that everybody likes that too.Most of us end up shelving our youthful dreams as part of our induction into ordinary reality, and then resigning ourselves to thinking that life is mundane. One puff on a joint though, and the universe expands, time slows down, every conversation is equally fascinating and hilarious, stress and obligations disappear and eating becomes a sensual feast. You are present and happy, and remember that ordinary reality is not the only option.

Or you might do a line of cocaine or shoot-up or smoke some other speedy-type drug (crack, speed, crystal meth), and get a rush of shattering clarity. A taste of heroin delivers you into a blissful cocoon of forgetting. Or you drop some psychedelic substance or have a nice cup of mushroom tea, and the walls around you melt away to reveal a spinning, luminous universe so beautiful it’s beyond comprehension, but you understand it perfectly because you know that you are an integral part of it.

If you felt drawn to repeat a drug experience, you wanted to recapture intense happiness, blissful forgetting or connection to something beyond ordinary reality. You got something very right here, because we are destined to pursue these states. From this perspective, the desire to repeat drugs is not evidence of psychological malfunction or wrongdoing, but rather an indication that you have tapped into something connected to your destiny.

Drug use is connected to destiny

The radical road to recovery

Thinking that you got something right on drugs seems counterintuitive, and I would never have dared make such an outrageous claim in my early post-drug days. Like most drug users, I had been brainwashed into believing that drugs are bad, which means that everything you feel and do on drugs is bad and, by default, you are bad.

I would probably have stuck to that script too if I hadn’t decided to study Chinese medicine. Although one of the major attractions of study was the opportunity to reinvent myself as a wholesome new-ager, I found everything about Chinese medicine so fascinating that I threw myself into it with the same dedication I had once applied to scoring drugs. I read everything I could get my hands on, from the ancient books on Chinese medicine to obscure texts on Daoism –the philosophy underpinning traditional Chinese medicine.

I was immediately taken with the Daoists; a group of colourful, eccentric rebels, who sought to live in harmony with nature, crack the cosmic code and escape reality. These were my kind of people. Chinese medicine was my kind of medicine too. The therapeutic platform is neutral. It is based on the belief that organ imbalances contribute to physical and emotional pain and restoring organ function creates health and happiness. There is no ‘Let’s get to the bottom of your problem’ stuff, no making amends and no judgment. Why anyone chose to take a particular path, action or substance is not considered relevant.

After I graduated and accidentally began specialising in addiction recovery, I saw first-hand how this neutral therapeutic approach avoided the emotional traps that delving into ‘why’ creates. But my clients –mainly people who had become caught in a relapse and rehab cycle –were still concerned with ‘why’. They wanted answers. This inspired me to start thinking beyond the commonly accepted reasons. I returned to my study of the Daoist mystics, made the cosmic connection between drugs and destiny, and then everything changed.

Why you chose to take a particular substance is not relevant

Finding your cosmic self

The Daoists believe that life is meant to be spent as a quest to find the ‘cosmic self’ and that being in altered states plays a key role in this process. The word ‘cosmic’ was overused in the hippie era, and for many it still conjures up images of flower children, psychedelic substances and tree hugging. From the Daoist perspective this would be a correct association though, as being cosmic means being more than normal, feeling more than ordinary, and seeing more than ‘reality’. This is what the hippies wanted and what every drug user still wants.

While I was thinking about the contemporary application of being cosmic, it struck me that it’s not actually the drugs you want, it’s the way they make you feel. Heightened sensory perception, the expansion of consciousness, overwhelmingly powerful feelings of bonding and love, are all experiences of your cosmic self; so what you really want is access to your cosmic self.Once I made this connection I added ‘cosmic’ back into my vocabulary, abandoned the idea of neutrality and, scandalously, began working with what drug users got right.

A seismic shift occurred. Instead of following the old script –quit drugs or alcohol; engage in a daily battle against powerful urges; finally resign yourself to a half-life spent focused on what you got wrong, and what you will never have again –recovery became an opportunity to recapture heightened states and continue the journey of discovery. ‘Find your cosmic self,’became the new recovery goal.

Be more than normal, feel more than ordinary, and see more than reality

The chi factor

Finding your cosmic self is experiential, and achieving altered states again is a part of the recovery plan. This is where chi comes into the picture. Chi is what creates drug highs. In the West, chi is usually translated as ‘energy’, but this is too limited a concept. You can get energy from chocolate; you can’t get a psychedelic adventure though.

Chi is better defined as being simultaneously energy, information and consciousness. Drugs flood your system with this mix, which is why they can magically convert the dull suburbs into a wonderland, or boredom into thrills. If you want anything in life to feel amazing, trippy or enhanced –just add chi. Chi is the missing link in recovery. If you turn to chi after drugs you can have everything you ever wanted from drugs, and more.

Chi is the medium of traditional Chinese medicine. Treatments such as acupuncture keep your chi flowing. A nutritional diet can build chi. The practices of tai chi and chi gung can build and move chi but also allow you to download chi. If you learn to work with chi on all these levels you have a recovery lifestyle that heals your physical symptoms and enables you to achieve altered states again. You don’t need any fancy equipment, just your body, mind and soul –and chi.

Experience altered states again


This article is the first of a series of articles excerpted with permission from The Rebels Guide to Recoveryby Jost Sauer and published by Centre of Dao, Maleny, Australia.


Jost Sauer’s Kindle book: ‘LOVE-LIFE: Too little sex, too much sex, love and heartbreak’ can be found here:

About the author

Jost Sauer


Jost Sauer is an author, acupuncturist and therapist, with a passion for health, fitness and lifestyle medicine. He shares his health insights in his books, blogs, workshops, treatments and retreats. Jost is on a mission to put hope and happiness back into the health mix.

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