There are two impulses in America. One is to try every psychoactive substance and pharmaceutical that offers any chance of improved feelings, longevity, and performance. The other is to eschew all such substances, even legal ones (like alcohol and cigarettes).

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The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, August 12, 2008. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.

Use More; Don't Touch

At the Olympics, President Bush was questioned about performance-enhancing drugs, in baseball (where he formerly worked) as well as the Olympics. Surprise - he was against them. Of course, Bush now abstains from alcohol and tobacco - after being a heavy smoker and drinker for years.

There you have it - he should know. But steroids and other substances employed to improve functioning - including mental acuity - occupy a more ambiguous place. Most users don't voluntarily decide to desist due to health problems. Rather, athletes like Barry Bonds are suspected of using and uncovered due to their superlative performances. As the case of Roger Cleamons revealed, the two classes of athletes are not those who use such drugs and those who don't, but those whose use is more-or-less ignored (Cleamons) and those who are prosecuted for it (Bonds).

The ongoing conflict between use and abstinence received an interesting jolt when the New York Times featured an article by respected science writer John Tierney entitled, "Let the games be doped." In other words, substances that improve performance can never be eliminated, so allow and monitor their use.

Tierney actually has created a Web site to invite suggestions for how to do this! Good luck. I recently discussed my alcohol use with my doctor, who said that my thinking 2-3 drinks daily was good for me (a 62-year-old male) was a self-deception. I am familiar with this literature, and the most respected medical journals regularly publish information that this is so. But I have come to see that this advice will never be publicized by public health and medical authorities in the United States. We just can't go there. If you're going to live longer, you're going to have to sneak your drinks.

There are many things the truth of which Americans deny. But what is so amusing in the case of these substances is that, somehow, many millions of Americans use them, at the same time as the American public at large disapproves of them. When you count all the drinkers, smokers (sometimes secret), antidepressant and other mood-modifying pharmaceutical users (legal and illegal), performance substance consumers, and so on - we incorporate not only the majority of - but virtually all - Americans. And, of course, I haven't even mentioned coffee drinkers.!