The XX Factor

Why aren’t we talking about Jared Loughner’s alleged drug problem?

As Rachael notes , Kelsey Hawkes, a high school girlfriend of Jared Loughner’s, has been talking to the British tabloid the Daily Mail, which sensationally sums up her account in this headline: “Our high school love split tipped killer over edge.” I don’t for a second think that Hawkes’s rejection in 2005 precipitated Loughner’s decision to open fire in a Safeway parking lot in 2011, but here’s what I do find interesting about her account: She says that after she dumped Loughner, he began drinking and doing drugs and, sometime later, cut himself off from their mutual friends.

Why has so much most of the discussion about Loughner this week, both at Slate and elsewhere, taken on faith the idea that he must be schizophrenic first and foremost? We hear from a variety of sources that he was doing a lot of drugs, and drug-induced psychosis (of the sort caused by heavy meth or cocaine use) can be nearly impossible to differentiate from schizophrenia. And yet no one is talking about the role Loughner’s drug use may have played in his mental health crisis.

Was Loughner self-medicating in response to an incipient mental illness, or was it the other way around? Of course, it may not be an either/or – drug use can trigger schizophrenia in susceptible people, and when someone is given a “dual diagnosis” of mental illness and a drug addiction, it’s often very hard to figure out which came first. But why, when every other piece of Loughner-related news has been picked to shreds (along with a great many of things that aren’t news, as Jack Shafer has pointed out ), is no one talking about this one?