Richard Holloway began with an unsubstantiated premise: "We all seem to have a need to get outside of ourselves from time to time." He then developed a line of argument that this "need" was satisfied by religion, at times including drumming, dancing and chanting. Then he moved on to alcohol and drugs as a means of creating "the state of ecstasy desired".
In examining the relative deaths from alcohol and illegal substances, he compares chalk and cheese and gives the answer in cucumbers: 1,800 deaths from the substances are direct; 33,000 from alcohol are "related". These deaths can be thus related because the data are recorded, especially in road accidents, whereas there is no consistent history of collecting and analysing drugs' contribution to road deaths.
This is also to ignore the difference in numbers: alcohol is probably the drug of choice of three-quarters of the adult population, whereas illicit drugs are less used precisely because they are banned and harder to get.
There is moral cowardice in his ultimate point - that the genie is out of the bottle. Prohibition didn't work, so let's make the best of it. His only answer to the problem is that, for people like him, all is well because "we learn temperance or moderation; we learn virtue."
I talk frequently to recovering alcoholics and abusers of other drugs and regularly visit a detox ward to help where I can. I can assure the Bishop of Edinburgh that the majority of these people started by "getting outside of themselves". Now they are only too anxious to try to get back in.
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