On Drugs by Chris Fleming

Academic Chris Fleming’s memoir is confronting, interesting, reassuring and offers insight into who and what drug addicts are.

Chris Fleming earned his PhD, wrote several books, became a family man and professor of Humanities at Western Sydney University – all while downing more Nurofen Plus and BZP than anyone could imagine surviving.

He also smoked marijuana, drank heavily and used other drugs while living what from the outside looked like a normal life. But the reality is that for a decade he used and obtained drugs while hiding his habit from those around him.

As a cultural analyst, Fleming knows Burroughs and Ginsberg solidified drug memoirs and that Fear and Loathing and The Doors of Perception have already been written. He quotes RD Laing’s ‘few books today are forgivable’ to show his self-reflection. On Drugs contains less hedonism than works from the Beat generation and that his book cannot be compared to that era without irony.

But that’s not to say Fleming doesn’t provide some action while describing the depths of his obsession in On Drugs. His narrative instead strips away the cultural myth of what and who a drug addict is, while thinking in depth about the realities that drug users experience.

‘One learns to be addicted like one learns to talk, walk, or ride a bike – through constant practice. All of these kinds of activities involve forgetting; the novice bike rider is thinking of everything that is going on: the footpath, the handlebars, the pedals, keeping balance, and so on… addiction comes with a certain forgetting: forgetting how to be straight, how to solve problems without chemical props, even how to take pleasure in what is (or should be, or once seemed) intrinsically pleasurable. If nothing else, addicts are experts at being addicted. Being straight needs to be relearned.’

Fleming felt his addiction to marijuana gave him an intellectual advantage and it’s easy to see why. He was nominated for the University Medal and offered a PhD scholarship for a thesis he wrote while stoned, and continued to use throughout his academic career.

But his addictions became too much and while some readers may want more details and drama, Fleming is a philosopher and academic before he is a drug addict. He discusses pigeonholing drug addicts as always addicts who just don’t use anymore, the religious aspect, the fancy rehab way-out, the creative-depressive drug addict and many other ways to think about addiction.

Those who have experienced any level of addiction will recognise Fleming’s troubles, although probably not at his level of addiction or academic success. On Drugs is confronting, reassuring, but above all offers us something to learn from.

4 stars out of 5 ★★★★

On Drugs by Chris Fleming
Publisher: Giramondo
ISBN: 9781925818048
Format: Paperback
Categories: Non-Fiction | Australian
Pages: 240
Release Date: August 2019
RRP: $29.95

James Arbuthnott
About the Author
Contributed by an ArtsHub critic.