No One Says “I Want to Be a Drug Dealer One Day”

What motivates someone to become a drug dealer? Few people purposefully set out in life to become entrenched in other’s addictions. There are circumstances in which legitimate businesses such as the manufacture and sale of alcohol, and medical marijuana in some states, provide the opportunity for abuse and addiction. In spite of the opportunity for abuse, I wouldn’t call them drug dealers. A drug dealer is an individual who sells drugs, of any type or quantity, illegally. They can be small-time dealers who sell small quantities to offset the costs of their own drug use, or they can be highly organized groups and businessmen within high-organized operations that run like a serious business.

Some people are born into a family of drug dealers. I knew a young man who was sent off to school by his parents at age nine with a backpack filled with illegal substances. He was told to sell them to his peers. By nature (heritable traits) and nurture, his life direction was set to become a drug dealer and eventually, a person who became dependent on heroin. He may have briefly enjoyed high status among his peers. But his future was anything but bright as an adult. He sought treatment for his addition but faced barriers. He has an incomplete education after dropping out of high school. He has a criminal history and felony charges. These prevent him from gaining employment outside the drug world. He is not eligible for federal student loans. He lacks a valid driver’s license and doesn’t have the financial means to own a car. He relies on his family for support but they are elderly and have few resources themselves.

Financial security leads some people into the illegal sale of drugs. The desperation of extreme poverty could cause any of us to act against our morals and engage in illegal activities in order to feed our children and provide housing for them. Or, as previously stated, some people see it as a Wall Street style investment. It is financial opportunity for personal gain.

There is a fine line between being a drug dealer and being a middle-man. Middle men are people who know drug dealers or know of a place to get drugs most of the time. Instead of meeting the drug dealer face to face these middle men can take a person’s money to the place where they acquire the drugs, then deliver the substance back to the buyer. They are still part of a network of illegal activity. It is easy to judge sellers as bad people and users as victims but many people who’ve become addicted to a drug have been in the position of middle man as a means of accessing and paying for their own drugs. The intent is not to make a living by selling drugs, but to help themselves. Middle men may become dealers if the dealers are incarcerated or have died.  They are easily able to do so because as middle men, they know who the addicts are that need the supply and the cycle continues.

In the case of an opioid addict, they become middle men because they need a ready supply of drugs in order to avert withdrawal symptoms. There are also well intentioned enablers who will become middle men. For example, a parent who can’t tolerate seeing their child in pain may either supply the money for drugs, or purchase it for their child. And, people who have experienced the pain of withdrawal may feel compassion for another and help them by supplying or sharing their substances.

What goes on in the mind of a drug dealer? Typically, there is lack of remorse or accountability. “Hey, I didn’t make them take it.” Or, “I’m just the middle man”. Some are thinking of self-preservation. “I have to do this to avoid withdrawal.” The enablers think “I just want to help.” Some people are so desperate that selling drugs is their best option. For example, the benefits of selling drugs outweigh the cost of prostitution, or the cost of not having food for their family. Some drug dealers minimize their role in the crime. “There are so many hands in this business from manufacture, processing, transport, and developing a network, I’m just one more set of hands.”

Interestingly, drug dealers don’t often become rich. They dream of the day they will stop, either through recovery, or living wage work. They want to be respected in the community and earn the praise of their families. These dreams may not come to fruition if they can’t break the cycle of addiction and overcome the barriers brought on by their activities.

Writer Tessie Castillo says that most people make genuine attempts to stop, but are driven to relapse through limited choices, poverty or a system that seems designed for them to fail. “Our attempts to solve the drug problem through capture and punishment often serve to perpetuate the cycle. The great irony of a system that bars someone from employment, education or housing for committing a crime is that it drives people to commit more crimes – selling drugs in particular.” Castillo believes that with strong school systems, living wage jobs and opportunities to become meaningful contributors to society, far fewer people would choose to sell drugs. This is where we should concentrate our efforts – not on building more prisons.


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