Jeffrey A. Schaler, Ph.D.

Department of Justice, Law and Society

School of Public Affairs

The American University

Spring 1999



Wednesdays, 11:20 A.M. to 2:00 P.M.

Ward 103

Faculty:  Dr. Jeffrey A. Schaler

Office:  Ward 216

Telephone:  (301) 585-5664 in Silver Spring, 



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.  And 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.  

And, 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" 


     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";  (7) new ways 

of self-examination leading to greater 

consciousness and human fulfillment.

     Lecture and discussion format.  

Course Objectives

1.  To improve the studentUs 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

Becker, E.  (1997).  The denial of death.  New York:  

     Free Press

Fingarette, H.  (1988).  Heavy drinking:  The myth of 

     alcoholism as a disease.  Berkeley, Ca.  Univ. of 

     Ca. Press

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.

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 position paper                 10%

Mid-term examination                 30%

Second position paper                10% 

Final examination                    45%

Class participation                   5%

                            Total = 100%

First position paper:  Five typewritten pages 

max.  You are to argue that drugs cause addiction, 

that addiction is involuntary, and that treatment for 

addiction works--and why a course like this is 

"dangerous" for college students.

Second 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 20       Drugs as scapegoat        Szasz ix-60

January 27       Drugs and medicine        Szasz 61-124

                 as magic            

February 3       Medicine as social        Finish Szasz


February 10      Myths of alcoholism       Fingarette,

                                           Part 1

February 17      Drinking as way of life   Finish 


February 24      What is "treatment"?      Lecture and

                 Treatment as religious    handouts


March 3          Film -- 1st paper due

March 10         Mid-term examination -- Essay

March 17         Spring break, no class   

March 24         Depth psychology of       Becker ix-124


March 31         The failures of heroism   Becker 125-252

April 7          The dilemmas of heroism   Becker 253- end

April 14         Introduction and the

                 Buddhist view             Leifer 11-122

                 Western views of 

                 suffering                 Leifer 123-158

April 21         Western views of

                 desire                    Leifer 159-214

                 Western views of self     Leifer 215-264

April 28         Transforming suffering    Leifer 265-288

                 2nd paper due

May 12           Final Examination         11:20 A.M. to 

                 Essay                     1:50 P.M.

*  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.  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."