Jeffrey A. Schaler, Ph.D.

Department of Justice, Law and Society
School of Public Affairs
The American University

Spring 2001
Wednesdays, 11:20 A.M. to 2:00 P.M.
Ward 102

Faculty: Dr. Jeffrey A. Schaler
Office: Ward 216 (and Adjunct Office on third floor of Ward)
Telephone: 301.585.5664 in Silver Spring, Md.
Office hours: (by appointment)

Course Description

[From the catalogue: Positive approaches to achieving alternative states of consciousness with and without drugs; the nonaddictive use of addicting drugs; a balanced assessment of the latest findings on the dangers and benefits of the most widely used nonopiate recreational drugs, such as marijuana, tobacco, caffeine, alcohol, quaaludes, and cocaine; choices for individuals and society regarding the use and control of the substances.]

Most people believe alcohol and illegal drugs cause "addiction." They believe "addiction" is involuntary and characterized by "loss of control" over alcohol and drug consumption. They also believe addiction is a "treatable disease." If you challenge those ideas, you are likely to be labeled ignorant at best and a heretic at worst. In this course, you will comprehend the fiction about drugs and addiction masquerading as fact, and the fact about drugs and addiction most people regard as fiction.

Together, we will examine accurate versus inaccurate definitions of addiction. We will review empirical evidence supporting the idea that people use drugs to change their perception of themselves and the world for existential and psychological reasons, not necessarily for chemical or biological reasons. We will investigate the scientific validity of the claim that addiction is a treatable disease.

We will also examine the religious, moral, and ethical bases of drug use, e.g., how alcohol and drug use becomes a "central activity" in a person's life-and why. We will review how illegal mind-altering drugs and their users are victims of religious and political persecution. Drawing on philosophical, psychoanalytic, sociological, and psychological perspectives, we will investigate existential explanations for why people choose to use drugs as a way to attempt to escape from reality. The semester ends by focusing on what it means to be an autonomous, "heroic," or "self-actualized" person.

In this course you will learn
(1) how drug use is a way to avoid coping with life;
(2) how drug use is a form of self-deception;
(3) how drug use is a religious activity;
(4) how treatment for addiction is a religious activity;
(5) how thinking about drug addiction as a disease is a form of self-deception;
(6) a Buddhist perspective on contemporary psychology and psychiatry to increase understanding of self-imposed suffering and problems-in-living usually labeled "mental illness" and addiction disease;
(7) new ways of self-examination leading to greater consciousness and human fulfillment.
Lecture and discussion format.

Course Objectives

  1. To improve the student's scientific and psychologically-oriented thinking about drugs, consciousness and human fulfillment.
  2. To evaluate the evidence supporting and contesting the idea that addiction exists, is characterized by involuntariness, and is treatable.
  3. To explore the sociological basis for mainstream ideas about addiction, with particular emphasis on the nature and practice of scapegoating.
  4. To understand what happens in involuntary treatment for drug addiction.
  5. To understand philosophical, psychoanalytic, and psychological perspectives on why people choose to use mind-altering drugs.
  6. To comprehend the meaning of being an existentially-heroic individual.
  7. To learn about Buddhist perspectives on human suffering and their relation to contemporary western psychological perspectives.
  8. To develop skill in debating these and related controversial issues in public policy settings.

Required Texts

  1. Becker, E. (1997). The denial of death. New York: Free Press
  2. Leifer, R. (1997). The happiness project: Transforming the three poisons that cause the suffering we inflict on ourselves and others. Ithaca, N.Y.: Snow Lion Press.
  3. Schaler, J.A. (2000). Addiction is a choice. Chicago: Open Court
  4. Szasz, T. (1985). Ceremonial chemistry: The ritual persecution of drugs, addicts, and pushers. Revised edition. Holmes Beach, Fl.: Learning Publications, Inc.

Course Requirements and Grades
First paper 10%
Mid-term examination 30%
Second paper 10%
Final examination 45%
Class participation 5%
Total = 100%

First paper: Five typewritten pages max. Explain, based on your readings and our discussions in class, (a) how addiction is a choice, not a disease; and (b) how drug experience is similar to, if not identical with, religious experience (and vice versa).

Position paper: Five typewritten pages max. You are to write about how your views on drugs and consciousness have changed or not changed since you've been in this class.


Date Topic Reading
January 17 Drugs as scapegoat Szasz ix-60
January 24 Drugs and medicine as magic Szasz 61-124
January 31 Medicine as social control Finish Szasz
February 7 Addiction Is a Choice Chapters 1-5
February 14 Addiction Is a Choice Chapters 6-11
February 21 Addiction Is a Choice Finish
February 28 Film - 1st paper due
March 7 Mid-term examination - Essay
March 14 Spring break, no class - Reading over break

Depth psychology of heroism Becker ix-124
March 21 The failures of heroism Becker 125-252
March 28 The dilemmas of heroism Becker 253- end
April 4 Introduction and the Buddhist view Leifer 11-122
Western views of suffering Leifer 123-158
April 11 Western views of desire Leifer 159-214
Western views of self Leifer 215-264
April 18 Transforming suffering Leifer 265-288
April 25 Film - 2nd paper due
May 9 Final Examination - Essay 11:20 A.M. to 1:50 P.M.

Click here for study notes

Note: Clear and accurate writing will be taken into account in assigning grades, as well as participation in class discussions. Material discussed in class, or in films, and not in any of the readings, may form the basis for questions on the examinations. Both exams are long essay exams. Exams must be taken on the dates assigned. One grade reduction for over three class absences. Students are responsible for anything covered in class during their absence. Readings must be completed by the session to which they are assigned. Additional readings may be assigned during the course. Students are encouraged to form study groups on their own. Grades: A-=90, B+=89, B-=80, C+=79, C-=70
Academic Integrity Code
"Standards of academic conduct are set forth in the University's Academic Integrity Code. It is expected that all examinations, tests, written papers, and other assignments will be completed according to the standards set forth in this code. By registering, you have acknowledged your awareness of the Academic Integrity Code, and you are obliged to become familiar with your rights and responsibilities as defined by the Code. Violations of the Academic Integrity Code will not be treated lightly, and disciplinary action will be taken should such violations occur. Please see me if you have any questions about the academic violations described in the Code in general or as they relate to particular requirements for this course."