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Mind Altering Substances

October 8th, 2012

In high school I decided I didn't like the idea of alcohol. When you drink you're not entirely yourself; people do things while intoxicated that they wouldn't do otherwise. In trying to pin down what bothered me about alcohol [1] I realized that my problem was with the whole category of drugs that change how you think. I decided to consume mind altering substances only in quantities small enough not to have an effect on my thinking. This meant giving up caffinated soda, but no other changes as I wasn't drinking or doing drugs.

Socially it's been a little awkward: people generally expect me to drink beer and wine. But if I just politely decline, people aren't offended; there are lots of people in our society who don't drink. When pressed I explain that "I don't like consuming things to change the way I think", and as a guide for what quantities of alcohol I'm ok with in food I'll say that if there's little enough that you'd feed it to a small child then I'm fine with it.

What's the basis for this restriction, though? A while ago I decided that mind altering substances seemed to have much more in the way of potential costs than benefits, and that they raised tricky moral issues. Which was reason enough not to consume them in the short term, but in the long term I really ought to consider them more.

[1] Two negative experiences also color my perceptions of the category. While I know I should not take them as representative, and I try not to pay too much attention to them in thinking about kinds of substances that are completely different, I'm probably not able to do that entirely. So. The first was that when I was about ten I was on some kind of ADD medication briefly, probably adderol. Aside from being much less hungry, I felt a bit of a different person, one I liked less. I don't remember exactly how I was different, but I vaguely remember that I was less interested in things and kind of dull. The other time was when I was about sixteen and had my wisdom teeth removed. The dentist gave me nitrous oxide and I remember disliking it. I quickly lost any sense of why I was getting it and started trying to count by sevens and carefully twiddle my thumbs. Eventually they gave me enough that I don't remember more. In both cases the not feeling like myself really bothered me.

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