In the current debate about the War on Drugs, there is an underlying current of what the acceptable amount of intoxication is in society. This really centers on control and has little to do with sobriety per se.
While sobriety may mean that one is less likely to go beyond the societal mores, this is not always the case. The infamous 2012 case of the face eating assault was originally attributed to “bath salts” – though none were found in his system. One argument was that his decision to no longer smoke marijuana might have triggered the attack. Sobriety is a security blanket, helpful at times but is obviously not a guarantee.
Society enforces and promotes an orthodoxy, boundaries of what is acceptable behavior. This is the degree of freedom that one has. So long as he or she acts within these societal confines, there is little censure to fear. This orthodoxy (in both the mental and physical realms) is where people are supposed to be. It is often described as “natural” behavior, though students of history are often amazed at what passed for “natural” behavior just a few hundred years ago. Regardless of time, it is always assumed that if a person cannot control themselves “correctly,” society must step in to do the controlling for them. If a person acting outside the orthodoxy happens to be sober, then drugs (e.g. medication or simply “let’s get a drink”) might be administered. If the person is drunk, intoxicated or under some sort of medication, sobriety might be enforced.
The goal is not really sobriety, but keeping behavior (both mental and physical) within the confines of the orthodoxy. If the orthodoxy is that certain drugs are “bad” (regardless of that actually being the case), then a War on Drugs results – not because sobriety is the goal, but more because that is the type and degree of control deemed “natural” for the time.
This is nothing new, and it is important to note that having an “orthodoxy” is not necessarily bad or evil. Society needs and desires a degree of control, points of agreement that keep things moving; but striking the right level and degree of control is a never-ending task. Yet, the terms that are used to describe an orthodoxy, such as “natural” or “correct,” dress up and couch it in an aura of “timelessness (i.e. just the way things are, unchangeable). Times change and with it changes the “natural” form of morals and ethics in a society.
When societal control becomes too onerous, reform is required or else violent and destructive solutions may result. This is what is happening now with the War on Drugs debate (and in other sectors as well) – the government and police forces are out of step with level and degree of control people want in their lives. People feel that they can control themselves with these substances (or at least not get too out of control), so the government and police efforts in this regard are no longer wanted. We shall see where this leads.