Friday, 5 October 2012

Drugs, Death and Russell Brand



A few weeks ago I watched Russell Brand: From Addiction to Recovery. It’s a fascinating programme about drug addiction – why people become drug addicts and how they get better.

The show was based around Russell’s personal experience. It seems Russell was a massive caner, doing any drug he could get his hands on especially heroin for years and years.

I like Russell Brand a lot and was interested to hear about what he calls his ‘loopy behavior’. He strikes me as articulate, clever and compassionate. ‘I think your openness is wonderful’ the Dalai Lama said to him and this certainly comes across in the film.

As you’d expect, death is constantly popping up. Amy Winehouse, the amazing chanteuse who died just over a year ago, is a ghost presence throughout the film. Her tragic death at 27 corresponds with the age that Russell gave up drugs and alcohol and decided to live.

So what turned him around? No surprise that death seems to have played a role. ‘You started being afraid of the fact that you could die’ a friend says to him. This powerful clip is repeated twice in the film. “In 6 months you’re going to be dead, in prison or in a lunatic asylum” says a doctor.           

Drugged up Russell
So fear of dying helped sort out Russell. But did death play any role on getting him into drugs in the first place? For me, the most fascinating part of the programme used neuroscience to look at why some people get addicted the drugs and others don’t.

Russell spoke the Professor David Nutt, the controversial ex- government ‘drug tsar’. Nutt says he is undertaking the most sophisticated study ever into addiction. Prof. Nutt concludes that addiction has something to do with the brain and identifies 10% of people as being susceptible because their brain is different.

These 10% are more susceptible because they are ‘impulsive’. Apparently that means that they are incapable of waiting. Impulsive rats take more cocaine than any others (I dread to think how this has been tested).

Russell immediately identifies with this idea of ‘impulsivity’. He remembers being asked to wait as a child and says this was inconceivable, like a ‘roaring existential pain that I would not tolerate.’

After a year of running Death Cafes my death sensor has become more acute. When people talk about things connected to time I wonder if they’re talking about death. And so it was here. Drug addicts are unable to wait - could that be something about death?

I could only find one piece of research looking specifically at this. This was by Hamdy Fouad Moselhy and Fares Daradkeh and is called ‘Death anxiety among drug dependents’. It was behind the cursed academic paywall but Dr. Moselhy was kind enough to send a copy.

The report ends by saying ‘In conclusion our results show that death anxiety scores are high in drug dependents … A well designed intervention targeting both drug dependence and death anxiety may help to improve outcomes from this group of patients’.

Wow. This got me thinking. What would “a well designed intervention targeting both drug dependence and death anxiety” look like? Could Death Café possibly to something? I’m fired up to find out.

If anyone working with drug addiction would like to explore this with me please holla: underwoodjon [at] gmail [dot] com.

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