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Home · Blog · Blog : Steroids, Antidepressants and Puritanism: When Are You “Not You,” And Who Really Cares?

An article in the Dallas Morning News on teen steroid use caught my eye because of a quote from an athletic trainer who says:

It’s easy for someone to cheat and win. With steroids, you’re tricking your body. You’re creating something that’s not you, and that’s why you’re cheating.

It’s  odd on the idea that the modification of an individual’s brain chemistry with antidepressants and other drugs is a “normal” and “healthy” practice. It strikes me that the use of steroids is no more “artificial” or blameworthy than the use of SSRIs or other drugs that are commonly used to modify mental health, and yet we attach a tremendous moral stigma to modification of the body.

Underlying the rhetoric on steroids, as with much of our national discourse on drugs, there is a profound  and puritanical discomfort with the mere possibility that somebody could somehow live more easily or more pleasantly because of chemicals. It’s fine if people use steroids to recover from an skiing injury so they can get back to work and behave like an ordinary person, but God forbid they should use any more steroids than necessary and thereby they become unusually strong or unusually powerful. That would be “wrong.”

In the same way, it’s fine if people use Prozac or Wellbutrin to feel “normal,” and it’s fine if they use Xanax to calm down before a speaking engagement and Ambien to sleep through the night, so long as the only point of using all these drugs is to facilitate their continued functioning as an unremarkable and well behaved citizen. But the moment a person starts using Xanax for fun, or crushing their ADD medication and snorting it for pleasure, we’re seriously concerned.

The irascible journalist H.L Mencken famously noted that puritanism is “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy.”  The truth of this proposition is rarely more clear than when it comes to our attitudes around the use of drugs.

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