Russell Brand; please, shut up.

Russell Brand
Russell Brand (image from The observer)

The debate about the future of the UK drugs laws, what to do about addiction and so on is a really important debate. Unfortunately it’s being undermined by celerity status in the form of Russell Brand.

Russell Brand has been a problem drug user, having developed addiction problems with Opiates and Alcohol which, to his credit, he has managed to beat. However, this experience, his willingness to talk about it and his media notoriety has resulted in him being elevated almost to the position of an expert. He has appeared in online debates, TV programmes and has even been invited to the ongoing Home Affairs Select Committee investigation into drugs policy. So much so in fact his voice is being heard far more often than experts with years of experience in addiction. In doing so he is doing much to undermine the established way of dealing with addiction and as he does this, promotes the campaign by rabid anti drug campaigners to whom abstinence is the only option.

Russell Brand is an evangelist for the 12 step programme of addiction recovery, pioneered by Alcoholics anonymous and later taken up by the offshoot Narcotics anonymous.  Some people who go through the 12 step process successfully – the success rate is not good – are evangelical about the programme. One reason for this is the nature of the whole thing, which is why it’s a controversial programme. The 12 steps are (narcotics Anonymous):

  1. We admitted that we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. We continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

What this means in practice is admitting to yourself and those around you that you are an addict and that you seek the help of others to overcome the addiction. It is good as far as it goes but it’s pretty obvious why this programme is controversial, it’s very faith-based and requires a surrender of your personality to a “higher being”. It’s probably because of this quasi-religious approach and a deep instilling of an acceptance of personal failure that those who come through it successfully feel the need to preach about it to others and this is what we’re seeing with Russell Brand.

He seems to assume that because it worked for him then it should work for everyone, it doesn’t.

The big thing that’s usually overlooked by these evangelists is the original motivation needed to take part in the first place. If you want to quit and addiction the first requirement is that you really, really have to want to do it. This is a deeply personal thing and cannot be imposed from outside. An addict, for example, cannot be ordered by a court to really want to quit. The motivation to try has to come from inside the person and it has to be real. Only then can the often long and difficult path to breaking the addiction begin.

Having successfully broken the addiction of course, you have to stay away from the temptations. As Russell Brand has admitted these temptations do not go away, even if like him, you’re rich enough to escape the old ways you used to live. Most addicts, of course, aren’t.

What we’re being told by people like Russell Brand is if people are forced into a 12 step like recovery programmes, they will see the light and recover en mass. This is typical of the myopic views so often presented in the drugs debate; it isn’t the panacea these people claim. There is a case to be made for more access to such programmes, but they should never be forced onto people, it’s just counterproductive.

The present system for dealing with opiate addiction in the UK is Methadone Maintenance, which is the object of these abstinence campaigners ire.It is true that rather too many people are “parked” on Methadone for years and are never offered a path away from that. This is clearly wrong, especially as methadone is a worse drug to be addicted to than heroin.  An alternative of course, which is working well in other countries, is to accept that some heroin addicts are always going to be heroin addicts and to let them have their drug of choice. A large part of the social harms caused by and ill-health of street heroin users is created by the forces of prohibition, leading to chaotic use and all the problems associated with obtaining the drugs via the black market rather than the heroin itself.

What is never discussed it the complicating effects of prohibition and the forces driving so many people to oblivion motivated drug use in the first case. How much problematic drug use is caused by mental health issues, poverty, stress, personal problems and so on? Probably most of it. Perhaps the whole issue of problematic drug use is more a symptom than a cause; solve the cause and you deal more effectively with the problem.

What is also obscured by all this media personality hype about the “drug problem” is an issue far more important and it’s simply not getting an airing. Non-problematic recreational use accounts for the vast, vast majority of drug use, yet it remains the focus of our efforts supposedly aimed at protecting the population. There are, for example, millions of non-problematic adult cannabis users who are otherwise law-abiding citizens regarded almost as public enemy #1. This huge army of people and the economy they support is forced underground into the arms of the same people who prey on the vulnerable problematic users. Prohibition ensures problems, if they do arise, are kept secret and hidden, allowing them to grow into issues far worse.

The prohibition law is badly focused in that it tries to protect those at risk by concentrating its efforts on those not at risk. Is it any surprise we have the problems we do now? Is it any surprise the law is such an ineffective mess?

What needs to happen, but won’t, is for the Home Affairs Committee to hear from some of the majority of drug users, from some of the millions of people who use drugs as an add-on to real life and to enhance enjoyment, appreciation of music and so on. They won’t do that because it’s not a message they want to hear; they want “drugs” to be associated with people like Russell Brand. Reality in the drugs debate is simply not on the agenda.

12 thoughts on “Russell Brand; please, shut up.

  1. Why Russell Brand instead of Prof. Nutt, Danny Kushlick, Transform or Peter Reynolds is beyond my understanding

  2. Is it just envy that drives yours and Peter’s vituperation on Russell? You put words in his mouth , his faith-base is Krishna not the evangelism of NA. As an ex-junkie for whom total abstinence did not work (daily pot use made temptation easier to ignore), I am saddened by your criticisms of Russell, who_for once, did not seek the limelight on this issue.
    What addictions have you overcome? Please give details. As an ex-junkie ,I too feel the experts to be usually quoting other peoples experiences and theories, with no experiential knowledge whatsoever.
    My perception is, whatever gets you through the night is alright with me, as long as you hurt no others.
    If abstinence works for him, who are you to criticize? He is not selling any system or program, and by accident raised £100,000 for a rehab centre.
    Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder, or is it absinthe?

  3. for some this is good for others it is bad there is no single solution to addiction.. just because this set of belief in recovery is placed around a guiding hand greater than our own is not a reason to dissmis it, rather an encouragement that other therapys that invole the mind may work just as well as chemical substitution. We know that cannabis is good for releaving addiction, yet when the treament involves the mind producing the endo equivilants via spiritual and creative thought its deemed bad..

    As for why no one listens or is seen to be listening to the real experts is they terrify the shite out of joe public.

    I did however think he did a wonderfull job promoting drugs at the end of the olympics… what a mind fest that was…. Do the spice gurls promote spice .. Hi Si ja

  4. Hi Tom

    I can’t speak for Peter Reynolds, but for me it’s not envy. I will admit that I find him as a person quite objectionable, he makes my skin creep frankly, but it’s his logic – if you can call it that – regarding drugs I dissagree with.

    My addiction of (none)choice was tobacco. I was a 20 a day person for around 30 years. I overcame it not by surrendering to a sky fairy, but by understanding what addiction was and what the process I was gong to go through with the witdrawl was all about. Quitting addictive drugs – and nicotine is as if not more addictive than heroin – is not easy but there is more than one way to do it and for some it just isn’t an option.

    Read the blog again; I don’t object to the idea of abstinence and I agree it should be made avaiable, just that it is not the only way for many and 12 steps is not the only method.

    He is selling something though, make no mistake about that. He is arguing for people to be pushed through his favoured regime.

  5. Decriminalize. Tax. Regulate. Rehabilitate. Educate. These are the 5 steps to helping addicts, not 12 steps to surrendering to a fake being.

  6. Transform’s outstanding book titled, After the War on Drugs: Blueprints for Regulation, provides specific proposals for how drugs could be regulated in the real world.

    The book is available for free online. If you would like to read it then here it is: http://www.tdpf.org.uk/blueprint%20download.htm

    It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that most of the ‘at present prohibited’ (available 24/7 at a dealer near you) drugs are derived from fast growing weeds like the cannabis plant, the poppy and the coca bush. These can all be cultivated legally and easily in many different regions on our planet without the aid of terrorist organizations.

    http://free-download-ebooks.com/Search/opium

    http://www.weedfarmer.com/cannabis/

    http://www.lycaeum.org/~mulga/coca.html

    The at-present illegal (non-patentable) Drugs may well have risks, but the results of their use are clearly not nearly as negative as prohibition itself.

    We’re talking deaths, broken families, economic waste and “loss of rights”. The vast majority of the people who are suffering and dying in this war are not suffering and dying from the drugs themselves, but from prohibition.

    When illegal drug dealers fight over turf or against government forces, their neighbors or innocent by-standers are often killed in the process. When drug users are killed by tainted drugs, it is due to prohibition. When they die from overdoses because they were afraid to seek help, it is due to prohibition. When our streets become over-run by thugs, it is due to prohibition. When terrorists and criminals are gifted the 300 – 500,000 million dollar market in narcotics, it is also due to prohibition.

    Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies
    http://www.cato.org/pubs/wtpapers/greenwald_whitepaper.pdf

  7. Although I don’t like Russell Brand & had to force myself to watch him,last week’s BBC3 prog.was the best I have seen on TV I am not a heroin user myself,but my son has been for 20 years.Methadone has not worked.As R.B. pointed out,usually addicts just use more heroin as their Methadone is reduced.The most telling point,not really pursued was that people with low dopamine are more likely to become addicts.A serious line of potential research?

  8. Russell Brand is a clown, a role he played well in the Olympics closing ceremony.

    He is a distraction from the real issues in the campaign against prohibition and is doing wonders for the prohos by being the perfect caricature of drug users that the DM and the Home Office like to portray. He is reinforcing the ridiculous idea that all drugs are the same unless they are alcohol or tobacco. He is a disaster for our cause. It is all summed up in the simple truth that the media have now focused on a comedian as the spokesman for drug law reform.

    He is obviously a very clever and intelligent man but not so clever that he realises how he is being manipulated.

    Cannabis is a mainstream issue. It’s not the province of heads, hippies, beatniks and stoners. It belongs to us all. The “alternative”, “counterculture” or “subculture” idea has failed miserably to bring reform. Brand confuses the whole issue because he looks like a stoner, then you realise he’s highly intelligent but he turns out to be a 12 steps evangelist. He is more than the Home Office could imagine in its wettest dreams.

  9. In my wet dream I imagine getting our clutches into this young man, and lead this child to LEARN and henceforth persuasively DEMONSTRATE (on videos) rational cannabis harm reduction and conservation practices such as the distant lighter vape toke technique– holding the flame an inch or so below the opening of your screened longstemmed one-hitter so that the entering air is 385F, and sucking slow 19 seconds before anything ignites etc.

    Gawking pubescent girls would learn the TOBACCO-EXCLUDING art of single tokes ($igarette-avoidance), protecting trillions of egg cells from nicotine contamination and the next generation from more personality disorder, crime and wars.

    O.K. wet dream aside, whooom do we hire to seduce and instruct Mr. Brand to enact the requisite popular videos? Ideal: there would be a TWO-STEMMED one-hitter with the lady holding and lighting the utensil and Mr. Brand staring persuasively at the camera while both suck intently. Then they lay utensil aside, pick up and both put on a two-open-ended plastic breathbonnet, or wire-enforced “Lunchspielhaus” i.e. 2-way breadbag with four rubber-band loops which fit over everyone’s ears, and breathe the vapour gift in and out of each other, the proverbial 30 warm wet W’s in honour of the Dawgwagner.

    In this way merchandiser capitalists will learn what BRANDING means, and be ready to start marketing appropriate mini-dosage equipment– eliminating hot burning paper overdose $igarettes AND joints with or without tobacco contamination.

  10. Interesting piece, with some reservations.

    I am generally a 12 step sceptic. In my experience in the Criminal Justice System AA/NA have a valid place amongst a range of options, but it needs to stop being marketed as ‘the only thing that works’ by AA members.

    When someone else then finds it won’t work for them, they tend to define themselves as hopeless cases who won’t be helped.

    Also when a ‘once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic’ believer stumbles, they tend to be predisposed to spectacular relapses.

    However, in this article I’m not sure about these 3 quotes:

    1: “If you want to quit and addiction the first requirement is that you really, really have to want to do it. This is a deeply personal thing and cannot be imposed from outside. An addict, for example, cannot be ordered by a court to really want to quit … ”

    Agreed, but a Court can order treatment or some appropriate intervention, in order to protect their health and control the impact on their community, e.g. crime to raise the required £££, etc.

    Then, while the monitored, supervised and supported intervention is in place, the person has an increased liklihood of seeing the benefits of the reduced use, and thinking more clearly about future choices.

    As in all interventions, success is way below 100%.

    2: “As Russell Brand has admitted these temptations do not go away, even if like him, you’re rich enough to escape the old ways you used to live. Most addicts, of course, aren’t.”

    Are you really saying that money makes you LESS likely to use drugs? I’m not sure that’s correct, although it might make you less likely to get caught in the criminal justice loop.

    3: “What needs to happen, but won’t, is for the Home Affairs Committee to hear from some of the majority of drug users, from some of the millions of people who use drugs as an add-on to real life … ”

    No, I agree with the earlier comment (Ronburgundy August 19th, 2012 16:52) that the H.O. does not so much need input from a myriad of users telling their unique stories, but from drug research experts, like David Nutt.

    Hopefully Russell Brand’s insights will be held in balance with other perspectives.

    Cheers!

  11. Hi Jb – thanks for your comments. Regards your reservations, I’ll try to answer them:

    1: Agreed, but a Court can order treatment or some appropriate intervention, in order to protect their health and control the impact on their community, e.g. crime to raise the required £££, etc. …

    … As in all interventions, success is way below 100%.

    Yeah, What I meant by that was a court simply ordering somone into abstinece treatment isn’t going to work.

    2: “Are you really saying that money makes you LESS likely to use drugs?”

    No I’m not. What I mean is it makes it easier to avoid the temptations whic come from being dumped back into the same environment you came from, with all the associations of the addictive lifestyle. If you’re rich enough you can move, adopt a different lifestyle and so on, that’s not so easy for someone ont he breadline.

    3: “No, I agree with the earlier comment (Ronburgundy August 19th, 2012 16:52) that the H.O. does not so much need input from a myriad of users telling their unique stories, but from drug research experts, like David Nutt.

    Hopefully Russell Brand’s insights will be held in balance with other perspectives.”

    Trouble is RB is being painted by some as somehow representative of drug users. Most aren’t like him, the vast majority are not problematic users. Somehow, thart point need to be made and hasn’t been.

  12. Sorry to not read all the comments and sorry furthermore for giving my 2 cents. Did not know the 12 step program was based on faith!!! (faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains- yet to be done, but can be) This Russell Brand fella is the topic of discussion. I like him, everything I have seen him in thus far I like including his appearence in front of a few posh people (who may have the odd nephew or grandchild ‘addicted’). I suppose it might be an idea to follow the money… listen to those that have it? Yet the biggest corps are the biggest perps of travesty en masse usually. Follow experience then? It’s a rare commodity to get off what you love, R.B. was so romantic about those rocks in that documentary, who would have thought such a flithy destroyer of humanity could be romantisced. It obviously does shift perception quite dramatically and favourably, it takes the pain away (John Lennon was also a part time junkie). So to get direct to the source, drugs change perception, quite drastically. Therefore if perception all across the board was a favourable condition that needed no drugs to shift it, then hey presto. So then, please, may I ask that we make new paradigms, new expectations and achieve something that is more honed in on what needs fixing. Perception en masse. Peace en masse too. Perhaps drugs (the right ones) could help facilitate this, as for a famous person shutting up, please do not, if a junkie was to see Russel Brand (and want to be like him) chances are his celebrity can get a few thousand clean. Thanks Russell, you have given me something to delve in, however, perception is the key. The help.

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