The Actual Enemy in the War on Drugs

There are dangerous drug wars south of the U.S. border. American presidents ceremoniously appoint powerful drug czars to wage war on illicit drugs. But the crucial question is, why do so many Americans comprise such a receptive, exploding market for cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, Fentanyl, and cannabis? One major cause of America’s drug abuse epidemic is the relentless erosion of American character. Is there a cure? Yes, but it is doubtful that we have the courage and will to claim it.

What is character disorder? How is it connected to drug abuse? What is the role of psychotherapy in the cure of our American character disorder(s) and by extension, our substance abuse epidemic?


American kids get significant amounts of drugs from their own parents’ medicine cabinets. Many kids mirror their parents’ substance abuse. Many TV commercials cleverly tout chemical solutions to all medical conditions, psychological problems, and somatic complaints. In one recent ad, a cold beer was preferred by a handsome guy over his cute girlfriend. TV adds urge viewers to ask their doctors for remedies.


What is character? How does it relate to personality and personality disorder? ‘Good’ character is important in an ordinary individual, a political representative, and especially in a president or leader. Disorders of character are both chickens and eggs. Personality and character disorders provide a ready soil for the growth of criminality, irresponsible sex, defective parenting, unhappy marriages, and drug abuse. Too many Americans find Hollywood “stars” infidelities and flagrant drug abuse exciting entertainment. And, vice versa, drug abuse provides a milieu for the above personality problems. Many Americans find themselves with an array of serious character disorders. They play a causal role in the current drug abuse epidemic.


The media and its many levels of message is a key influencer of character. For better or worse, American celebrities act as heroes, antiheroes, role models, even modern gods. They act out a collective unconscious proclivity to reject kindness, civility, virtue, wisdom, sobriety, and moral integrity. Substance abuse, cynicism, self-absorption, hedonism, materialism, and agnosticism are really last-ditch defenses against despair, existential depression, fear, and loneliness. Alcohol and drugs numb the pain.

Celebrityism and drug abuse are really symptoms of a widespread disorder of character. Many Americans seem to believe that it is abnormal, dumb. or naive to be truthful, kind, merciful, patient, humble, forgiving, sober and virtuous. Celebrities provide vicarious thrills and stimulation to assuage mundane, materialistic, boring, rebellious, and stimulation-seeking lives. There exists a fascination with celebrities’ drunken escapades and their ‘dry-out’ and rehab efforts. Many role models seek excitement and pleasure via drugs and exciting uncommitted sex. Hollywood and TV movies are saturated with gratuitous violence, banal bathroom humor, alcohol, and drugs. Flowery TV ads extol the Prozac, Paxil, and other chemical solutions to anxiety and depression. 

There are no ads that recommend inner psychotherapeutic exploration of vulnerabilities and strengths. Psychotherapists are often portrayed in the media as either dispensers of flamboyant magical and quick cures, or as jaded violators of professional boundaries, or even serial killers!

Psychotherapy is the in-depth exploration of a person’s perceptions, motivations, emotions, ‘blind spots,’ core conflicts, fears and strengths in the context of a trusting relationship with a well-trained professional ethical psychotherapist. Exploration of how one’s mind works is challenging, fascinating, exciting, at times painful, and takes hard work. Insight, mindfulness, meditation, and accurate empathy towards self and others takes time and yes, money. (Americans spend bundles of money on booze, drugs, and nice cars but balk at paying for psychotherapy.)

One to three years in psychotherapy is like compounded interest in a reliable inner money market or savings account. The gradual strengthening of character during an effective psychotherapeutic relationship prevents future substance abuse or communication problems. The talking cure’s benefit from ‘inside-out’ can change a life and often can last a lifetime. Experiences in groups that help others such as scouts, community service at hospitals, or homes for the elderly, can also be therapeutic and character building.

Weaknesses and defects in character lead to and perpetuate our dependence on substances of abuse. Weakness of character results in denial about the millions and millions of dollars that dependency on cannabis, narcotics, stimulants, and other substances of abuse costs our country. Are there ways to strengthen character from the inside out? Or do we only build higher and higher fences on our borders, while the drug smugglers build their skills at clever deception to serve their drug-seeking American customers on the other side of the wall?


There is such an entity as national character. The behavior and character of a celebrity, leader or president significantly influence national character.  Many Americans have a disorder of national character.  We seem mesmerized and seduced by the charm of "characters" we call celebrities. Presidents have gradually become celebrities. More accurately, we allow ourselves to be mesmerized by charismatic celebrity politicians.

Americans must work at accurately assessing the character of our president and the quality of his ideas. We need to be critical of his or her broken promises, as well as veracity and consistency of moral behavior. Military service and especially details about valor during combat duty do provide some proof of strong character. Lying about or padding a military or other public service resume is indicative of a serious a character defect in a politician.

 Finally, it is cool to be unabashedly good, kind, thoughtful, truthful, and humble. It has survival value in many domains but apparently not in American politicians.  


Persons with character disorders frequently gravitate toward substances of abuse. Rather than looking inward for strength and meaning under stress, Americans seem to be conditioned to seek some external substance to ingest to take away pain or even normal sadness or anxiety.

Presidential wars on drugs have been sadly unsuccessful. I believe that our failure is because the emphasis has been primarily on tough law enforcement, interdiction, and incarceration, not in-depth psychotherapy.

In-depth psychotherapy treatment, especially the individual and group therapy of character and personality disorders has been shallow and too brief because of financial considerations. Treatment of substance abuse involves more than sobriety education and maintenance. It must involve several times per week intensive individual, group, and family/couples’ psychotherapy, often over several years. These sessions approach, confront, and seek to actively change the symptoms and behaviors of character disorder.

Effective psychotherapy combined with sobriety maintenance and enlightened law enforcement needs to be in place. At the core of successful drug rehabilitation is in-depth psychotherapy. Inner self-examination directed at good character is true substance abuse prevention. To paraphrase and expand on Socrates, "The unexamined substance-dulled life is not worth living." Natural highs are available for those who look inward and apply their empathy towards helping others and themselves.

Image: Public Domain Pictures

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