Scotland is Top of the European league! Unfortunately it’s for drug deaths. And this week, we’re back at the top of the UK charts for alcohol-related deaths too. There are lots of people injecting drugs all the time, for diabetes, or fertility treatment, but we direct our disapproval at those who break the law, regardless of the tragic stories behind the statistics. And in some ways that’s right: if we didn’t disapprove of law-breaking, it would become normal, and the law would cease to work.
But alcohol isn’t illegal, and we still look down on those who find themselves dependent on it. And if drugs were de-criminalised, would we be any less judgemental? I doubt it. I think our disapproval’s deeply rooted, because we really struggle with the idea that for anyone life might only be bearable through a drug or booze-fuelled haze.
The Greeks had a word for it: acedia, or soul-sickness. Thomas Aquinas called acedia “the sorrow of the world”, and we know from reports on declining mental health that many more of us are now suffering from it. Religion always used to be the solution, but many’ve now written it off as something you can’t prove. But its most successful replacement, consumerism, is starting to jade too. We keep buying all this stuff, but we’re still not as happy as all those people in the adverts. We yearn for more, which is probably why people are lapping up mindfulness apps and relishing the beauty of nature.
It’s no accident that the statistics are at their worst in our most forgotten towns, where hope seems to have left with the now long-gone industries that characterised them in the past. Of course, if the relationship between people, and drugs and alcohol were simple we’d have solved it all by now, but I wonder if a closer look at the faces behind the statistics might help us as a community to find better ways to offer hope. The kids in our primary schools seem to be full of it, so I wonder what makes hope fade. And I wonder what it would take for all of Scotland to be such a wonderful place to live that the allure of props like drugs and alcohol was totally eclipsed.
I have been delivering “Thought For The Day” pieces on BBC Radio Scotland since November 2016. By kind permission these pieces are reproduced in blog posts here on my website. To find my other pieces click here go to my Thought For The Day index page.