Mass Anesthesia: Self-Medicating Our Deconstructed Souls

Americans have always been restless. We are, after all, a nation of immigrants and once those immigrants arrived here they kept moving. The impulse to move and to keep moving is driven by dissatisfaction. Sometimes it has been dissatisfaction with the religious status quo. Most often, however, at least since the early nineteenth century, it has probably been economic dissatisfaction that has driven immigration to America and movement within America. Nevertheless, and I am happy to be corrected on this point, it does not seem that, as restless as we have always been, we were always afflicted with drug addiction to the degree we are now. There can be little doubt that the USA is awash in drugs. Authorities have stopped an almost unthinkable amount of Fentanyl from entering the USA so far this year. According to the CDC, more than 100,000 people died from drug overdoses from in a 12-month period through April, 2021. That is a rise of 29% over the previous year. In 2020 about 93,000 people died from Fentanyl overdoses.

The Modern “War on Drugs” dates to the Nixon Administration. Advocates of legalization argue that people have always abused narcotics. They point to opium dens and worries about alcoholism in the nineteenth century. Still, when the number of Fentanyl overdoses rises from about 50,000 to 93,000 in a single year something new is afoot. Fentanyl is one of the most powerful narcotics available. Obviously it is a dangerous drug. First responders now regularly carry NARCAN to counter the effects of drug overdoses.

Why do people begin to abuse alcohol and drugs (and especially dangerous drugs, e.g., LSD, Fentanyl, Heroin) in the first place? Alcoholics Anonymous, NA, et al. tell us that addicts have a “disease.” They cannot explain how addiction is a disease or how people catch or develop this disease but this is the language they use. Before disease they claimed that people became addicted to alcohol because of an allergy. More plausibly, sociologists and economists point to severe economic conditions in some parts of the country prompting hopeless and helpless people to self-medicate, as they say in the drug treatment business, thus leading to addiction and, too often, to death.

Drunks and addicts are not drunks and addicts all their lives. They become drunks and addicts. There are some drugs, e.g., a new strain of Meth, that have a powerful, life-dominating effect almost immediately but typically become addicted over time. Why would someone seek to anesthetize himself via Fentanyl? How hopeless and helpless must someone be to take that risk?

Still, the more question persists: Why do need to  anesthetize themselves in the first place? Brendan W. Case argues that, as important as economic factors are, there is a factor that sociologists and economists overlook: the spiritual vacuum created by Modernity. The German nihilist Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) saw more clearly than most what the “death of God” would mean for the West. It leads to despair and anomie, lawlessness born of the lack of external norms. Why did young people turn to dangerous narcotics such as LSD in the prosperous 1960s? Baby Boomers, who had grown up with busy, absent Fathers (who were dealing with their own demons from World War II and Korea) sought community in communes and contact with the transcendent via LSD and weed.  In the 1980s they turned to cocaine. In the 90s it was Prozac.

We anesthetize ourselves to dull the pain of loss and the grief that comes with it. People in rust belt towns, Appalachia, or a trailer park in Southeast Nebraska (see the work of Chris Arnade) might be anesthetizing themselves as the grieve over the loss of their economic and social future. Lonely widowers anesthetize themselves to cover the pain of a missing spouse. Returning veterans anesthetize themselves to deal with nightmares and persistent headaches. A culture anesthetizes itself to dull the grief from the loss of transcendent meaning, the loss of heaven as a reality, and the loss of salvation. As Jesse Jackson might have said, the West has traded hope for dope.

Christian, the addicts and drunks in our towns and cities are our neighbors. The lonely, hurting, and the unemployed who have lost their sense of identity and purpose are also our neighbors. The addicted and anesthetized post-Christian West, stumbling about in a narcotic haze between Covid lockdowns and the next booster shot is our neighbor.

We anesthetize our souls because we know that death is stalking us and we fear that Nietzsche is right, that this life is all there is, that life is nothing but the will to power. The Reagan-Bush-Clinton prosperity cycle did not heal our souls. It just funded more expensive meds. The quest for a material utopia under Ohama-Trump-Biden has not healed our souls. It has only divided us into warring, raging tribes screaming at each other.

President #46 is not saving us and #47 will not save us and anyone who thinks he can is an idolater. The thing our neighbor needs more than a job  and a jab, more than getting clean, is the Savior who came forth from the tomb. Our neighbors have given up Christ for crystal meth and made themselves more miserable and hopeless. The West presumes that it is too Enlightened to believe in a Jewish Messiah who was crucified and raised but are we? If we are so Enlightened, if we really as wise as we think we are why are anesthetizing ourselves to death? To be sure, we should not turn to Jesus for happiness and certainly not for euphoria. He is not the next drug. We should turn to Jesus for who and what he is: salvation from destruction and the wrath to come. We have abandoned him but he has not abandoned us sinners. He is still calling, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). Fentanyl is a an anesthetic. Christ is rest for the restless.

We are trying to anesthetize our conscience but users wake up. We all have to face the mirror. We cannot silence the voice inside that tells us that we are image bearers and that God is displeased with us. We are not wise. We have become fools. Life is not less meaningful. It is we who have forsaken the source of meaning: the God who is, who spoke, who described, who names us. If you are reading this, if you are near despair, it is not too late. The Savior will hear you and do for you what pills and booze can never do: redeem you from the pit of destruction (Ps 103:4).

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


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  1. Having studied the behavioral sciences in my undergrad years, I see another phenomenon that seems to be overlooked and I’m not sure why: simple boredom. Our culture has been bombarded with an ever increasing rate of information flow over the past 50 years or so, increasing exponentially during the past couple of decades. So, if there is not a constant exposure to something new and stimulating many people just get bored – so many types of drugs are a relief from that. And, as mentioned in your post, meth has exploded in poor areas of the country as the drug of choice, but it’s not just because it’s some kind of relief from impoverished conditions, but it’s a stimulant for people who work two and sometimes even three jobs to make up for the loss of previously lucrative employment (coal mining, steel mills, etc.).

  2. You wrote, “… #47 will not save us and anyone who thinks he can is an idolater.” What about the myriad denizens across our blighted plains who idolize their physicians – and the holy “science” of globalized, Big-Pharma medicine?

    In your recent “Language Of Science Or Religion?” piece, I commented that the “vaccine” is just that; it’s neither the Lord’s Supper nor a sacred means of grace. Yet months ago I saw a grown woman joyfully, nay, ECSTATICALLY announce to a small group that she’d just gotten vaccinated…and everyone around cheered and clapped hands like so many trained seals. For the record, a dear friend in front of me – who’d been badly, permanently harmed by a flu vaccine years ago – turned around and gawked at me in total disbelief at the scenario.

    Moreover, I’ve a good number of friends/acquaintances who have never been the same since the vaccination/booster protocol…but they idolized their MSM (mainstream medicine) doctors and their advice. And even those who did NOT proceed blindly into Jab World and first researched what they thought was the best vax option are not themselves anymore.

    Perhaps self-anesthesia is seen as a means of escaping the horrifying reality of what our nation has become in the wake of COVID-19. An elucidating quote from the newly-released book by RFK, Jr. entitled, The Real Anthony Fauci: Bill Gates, Big Pharma and the Global War on Democracy and Public Health: “All the policies of Fauci were designed to facilitate the public view that the vaccines were the only way out of the pandemic and then came the use of orchestrated fear as propaganda. To get people to be locked in under house arrest and induce a condition that is known as Stockholm syndrome, which makes people grateful to their captors and believing in them that the only way to survive; the only way out of the crisis, is total obedience to the commands of the captor.”

    Thus many are sadly blinded to or have lost sight of the One who is able to set any and all captives free.

  3. “…In the 90s it was Prozac.” The antidepressant/antianxiety medication fluoxetine (generic for Prozac) is rarely an anesthetic, though it certainly can have a side effect of affecting one’s emotions in an undesirable way. I wouldn’t equivocate it though with the much stronger LSD or cocaine, though. Sincerely, your friendly (only?) Reformed psychiatrist

  4. Dr Mora,

    I was speaking broadly, thinking about Prozac Nation (2001), i.e., the turn to psychiatric drugs on a broad scale to deal with reality. There was a point where docs were handing out that stuff pretty widely. In that sense it’s a kind of anesthesia, isn’t it, a dulling of the senses in order to cope?

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