What We’ve Really Learned From Hippies About Substance Abuse and Prevention
When you think of the 60s and 70s in the U.S. what comes to mind? Maybe you think in terms of presidents: Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter. Maybe you think of the history of the time: the Civil Rights Movement, the assassinations of president Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., the Vietnam War, Neil Armstrong and the moon landing. Either way, those two decades were arguably the most important to American history. If you ask any of the people who lived through those periods in time, they can probably tell you exactly where they were for all of those historical moments.
Well, most of them probably could- some of our parents and grandparents were too busy getting high and running wild and free, part of the free-loving hippie movement. Members of the hippie subculture were typically ‘baby boomers’ who elected to live outside of the politically charged society of the time. Because of their anti-war, anti-governing lifestyles, hippies quickly came under reticule by those who believed they were unpatriotic, lazy, or even traitorous.
“If you can remember the 60s, you weren’t there”- Unknown.
In fact, much of the anti-drug propaganda behind president Nixon’s ‘Drug War’ began in response to the widespread drug use of the time, which was blamed on hippies. The 60s were a time of great expansion in drug experimentation and development: LSD, use of ‘magic mushrooms’ and marijuana, heroin, cocaine, ‘speed’ and barbiturates became popular during the same time as the hippie movement developed.
While there is much debate about the effectiveness of Nixon’s Drug War, we can easily track the consequences to this day. How? Well, let’s just see what we’ve really learned from hippies about substance abuse and prevention.
Fear Tactics Don’t Work
If you haven’t realized it by now, anti-drug propaganda based in fear rather than facts doesn’t work. Curiosity and rebellion lead some to experiment without learning the potential consequences of their actions. In the early days of Nixon’s War on Drugs, Americans were flooded with anti-drug propaganda through films, television shows, ads, and other methods. With ridiculous notions such as “reefer madness” and the like, most of our preconceived stigmas against people use illicit substances stem from these misguided attempts to end a growing problem.
The unfortunate backlash of the attempt to discourage baby boomers and later generations from experimenting with drugs is that people who need treatment for substance abuse disorders are often shunned and ridiculed instead of assisted. This leads to many suffering needlessly is silence, preventable health damage, and thousands of deaths every year.
Harsh Punishment Doesn’t Work
So if you can’t discourage drug abuse through fear tactics, threats of harsh punishments should be effective, right? Wrong, very wrong- besides, isn’t that the same thing? The extreme sentences faced by people charged with possession or trafficking are nothing new- they’ve been around since the beginning of the “war on drugs”- but it’s time we take a closer look on why.
One may assume that the threat of 20 years in prison would be enough to discourage any involvement with illicit substances. However, as we now know, addiction overrides such concerns: it’s a unrelenting driving force which overpowers all other priorities. Over the 45 years since Nixon’s war began we have witnessed countless examples of how addiction can lead to a life repeated legal trouble.
The harsh punishments faced by non-violent drug offenders have come under intense scrutiny as of late- just last year president Obama pardoned more than 6,000 people serving decades for drug-related charges. While this upset some people who claimed their release would only serve to flood the streets with drugs and violence, the U.S. prison system has proven time and time again that it’s a lack of rehabilitation that leads to repeat offenders, not some moral failing.
Many legislators across the country are pushing for reform to drug laws which would focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment. The issue has become such a hot topic that every candidate of the upcoming presidential election has spoken on their plans to address the drug policies should they be elected (which is wonderful and long overdue- we just hope they stick to it).
No One is Immune to Addiction
If the baby boomers turned hippies taught us nothing else, they definitely proved that addiction can affect anyone. While the anti-drug propagators attempted to convince America that only certain types of people could become addicted, thus perpetuating the belief that substance abuse is a choice or a moral flaw, looking back on the era proves quite the opposite. People for the best, most American families found themselves hooked on illicit drugs. In fact, that’s the one thing that those propaganda films got correct: even if your upbringing is absolutely perfect, addiction can strike anyone.
Think of it this way: why is it that, despite drug use being popular in the hippie subculture, so many were able to walk away from it and lead ‘normal’ lives (and become our parents and grandparents)? While yes, many did face the challenge of overcoming addiction, and others unfortunately lost their lives to substance abuse, not all of them ever actually developed dependency. The problem lies in that you cannot predict your own reaction- though if you have a family history of addiction it may lead to a predisposition.
It’s Not a Teenage ‘Fad’
Now, don’t take my last point the wrong way: just because some people can walk away from a life of drug use with little to no ramifications doesn’t mean substance abuse is a teenage fad. Believing so will only lead to trouble- don’t ignore early signs of trouble on the misguided belief that your child will “grow out of it.”
The baby boomers’ proof that this is no teenage thing is becoming more obvious today rather than in the 1960s and 70s; though members of this generation are now in their 50s and 60s, new and renewed substance abuse disorders are developing to this day. In fact, the rate of older adults suffering from addiction is expected to more than double by 2020. Too often we ignore the signs of addiction among our older family members as quirks of aging or just a fact of life. This is a potentially fatal mistake, as when we age our bodies are less tolerant of things like drugs and alcohol. It becomes easier to overdose and our bodies suffer greater damage.
A lifetime of substance abuse does an incredible number on your health and well-being. Increased risks of cancer, liver, heart, and lung damage, inhibited mental facilities, and other effects can lead to a life of medical bills and hardships. Some former hippies still suffer health issues later in life even when they hang up their bell-bottoms and drug use decades before. While it is true that the early one finds sobriety the better it is for your health, the lasting effects of addiction can be hard to predict.
Did I miss some lessons we learned from hippies past? Comment below to let me know!
Keep Up With Trending Addiction News
About the Author
Alexandrea Holder is a South Florida native working toward double Master’s degrees in Psychology and English. She finds the psychological aspects of addiction and mental illness fascinating, as both are prevalent in her family’s history. When not researching and spreading addiction awareness, Alexandrea enjoys sparring, artistic pursuits, and admiring puppies online.