Shane Schleger: 'Most People are Functioning Drug Addicts to Some Degree'

Published on 29 June 2014 by Pokerlistings 186

Earlier this year Shane Schleger wrote a groundbreaking article for, opening up about his recreational use of crack cocaine and other drugs for the last two decades. caught Schleger on a break at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas to explore the topic further. Schleger is an intelligent and thoughtful person and he opens up about his own experience with drugs and the reaction he received after writing that article. Schleger has been making a living playing poker for many years and is now producing a podcast called "Dope Stories" with former poker reporter Paul Maguire.

Shane: Dope Stories Podcast, we founded earlier this year. February, we started it. I conceived of it as a sort of way of opening up the discussion about drug use and behavior, and just to kind of like, put that out there as a recorded broadcast, and see where it took us. And right now we're still kind of in the first six months of our operation, and just kind of seeing where it goes. And partnered up with Pauly McGuire, a former poker reporter, and we're kind of just seeing where it goes. Anything like this is going to be a slow build, an evolution. But Dope Stories Podcast aims to be a rational discussion about drug use.

I guess I've always just sort of had, I don't know, an interest in all kinds of things, and including being intoxicated. And it's not even so much that. I guess I feel there's so much stigma attached to it unnecessarily, or unjustly, that in the 20 years that I've been using drugs, or experimenting, or observing people using drugs, I don't really see a way to reconcile the stigma versus the behavior. It seems like the behavior is relatively normal, in keeping with human values, but the stigma we attached to it is disproportionate.

So I just thought, maybe just from a seeker's point of view, as someone questioning these issues, that I would be good to examine it from. Not that I have any kind of expertise, or exact answer. Just that, I think the questions need to be asked, and you know, sometimes you have to be willing to sort of put yourself in the way of some stigma for that. I think drug use in general is a complicated issue. But what's more complicated seems to be our sort of arbitrary psychology about it. I think basically most people are functioning drug users to some degree, so to attach a stigma to certain aspects of drug use, or certain aspects of behavior, while sort of also then condoning other very similar aspects, I think that does create a sort of psychological confusion.

And I think there is something about the stigma attached to, you know, "drugs" specifically, that does, you know, confuse, or muddle the issue, and doesn't really help users, doesn't really help us as a society understand what our siblings and our friends are doing. And it just sort of creates a divisive atmosphere. The inability to have an open conversation about all kinds of behavior, I think it does impede us. It does hamper us as human beings.

You're talking about the article I wrote for, back in February, I guess? And I detailed, basically, a long period of usage of crack cocaine. And it's not necessarily a defining characteristic of my life, but since it has been there the whole time, I thought that it sort of might be an interesting way to try to bulldoze over some of these stigmas we're talking about. And the reaction was pretty heavy, overall. But basically in the long run, I would say it's been good. I think a lot was sort of projected on me. After I wrote it, a lot was assumed about me and how I was justifying, or what I was doing, that I don't really think was true to what I was writing.

I was writing, I think, just a sort of plain reportage of my own history, and then what I saw reflected on me was, well, in the negative side was, people's own sort of prejudices, or people's own preconceived notions. And I realized like how deeply ingrained some of our preconceived notions are on these topics. And then on the other hand, there was a lot of positive support for me, for just, you know, putting out something that was honest and real, and a lot of people can relate to. I'm certainly not the only person that's had, for a while, felt like they had to like hide aspects of their drug use away. So I think there was a lot of support for just the idea of de-stigmatizing things, and the idea of having an open conversation.

And you know, poker players are, I think, very open minded. Poker players were supportive in a healthy way, and I think that's because we've dealt with stigmas, and we've dealt with being mis-characterized ourselves in our profession. I think in the poker world, it's a matter of, we're sort of engaged in, I don't know if I want to call it addictive, but we're engaged in a activity that itself sort of relates to drug use. So it's like, you're either experiencing the high of winning, or the low of losing. And that in itself sort of relates to drug use.

And then there's also the freer aspect of our lifestyle, that doesn't involve necessarily punching a clock or having to be somewhere at a certain time, that I think engenders maybe greater experimentation. And so we have more freedom, and therefore more responsibility in how we, you know, well, more freedom is I think the issue that you were getting at. We have more freedom to experiment, and that can get people in trouble. And that is also where our responsibility comes from. Since we're living life on the fringes of addictive behavior to begin with, finding that balance is going to be trickier, so that just calls for more honesty and, you know, a need for more clearer conversation. I don't know if the poker world really has more drug use that any other microcosm, but I just think it's the nature of the game, that fits very well to a certain type of experimental minded and free minded mentality.

You know, I haven't. I haven't used Provigil or Adderall, but I've known from people who have reported success with that. I don't know that much about it as far as what rate or what percentage of people are using these substances. I think what I've really noticed helps poker players perform well is a good life balance, that involves exercise and nutrition, and maybe the right performance enhancing drugs as well. But, unfortunately, it's not as simple as identifying drug use and performance in poker. I think there's a larger balance. And really, with all these drug issues, we really should be focused on the larger sort of balance, that plays in and out of the substance itself. There's no exact correlation oftentimes. There's many contributing factors.

You know, I really don't know what I'm hoping to accomplish. And I think only time will tell if it was a good idea, if it was productive. I think what we have accomplished so far is what I would like to continue to work on, which is really just fostering a new level of understanding, and opening up my own level of understanding. So what I hope to accomplish, I guess, in whatever amount of time, is just a more finely tuned understanding of my own behavior, my own psychology. Maybe a more comprehensive way of dealing with our problems and a language that can help us sort of work through some of these complicated issues. So I don't know. They're sort of vague hopes and ambitions I have for it, and I don't really know what I'm doing, but I'm just trying out something new.

You know, I think I've always had a fairly open disposition with people that are close to me, as far as the drugs I use and things like that. So if there was ever a fear, I would be open with people around me like that. However, I think there is this situation you could be stuck in where you might feel you're a little bit scared about your own behavioral tendencies, but then your options really aren't that great. Like, let's say you're not trying to hit rock bottom, and you don't want to go to a rehab, and there's no necessarily codified way to healthfully discuss these things with your friends and family.

It's like, so I guess one of the things I did accomplish, or hope to accomplish, was just, yeah, it's fun to be able to have a conversation with my mother about drugs. As hard as that is, you know, to be able to tell her, "Yes, I use hard drugs sometimes." It's a difficult thing, but I think in the long run, it will create less harm, and it will create just the sort of safer standard for people to engage in basically normal behavior.

Interviewer: That's awesome, man.