Addiction – it isn’t just about the drug

September 17, 2013
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For the most part in this country, we’ve gotten past the moral argument against overall drug legalization, although that still exists. Today, it’s all about addiction. We can’t legalize drugs because they enslave people and cause them to be addicts, and if we legalize drugs their availability will insure that there will be a massive increase in addicts destroying society.

Of course, none of the actual evidence supports that view, yet the logic of drugs as enslaver still dominates.

A good article in the New York Times Science section yesterday: The Rational Choices of Crack Addicts by John Tierney talks about the work of Dr. Carl Hart (with video as well). Hart has been featured in “The House I Live In” and has also written the book “High Price.”

We’ve talked here before about the Rat Park experiments that showed if you provided rats with a positive environment as an alternative to self-administering drugs, they were less inclined to the ravages of addiction.

Hart did the same with human subjects.

“Eighty to 90 percent of people who use crack and methamphetamine don’t get addicted,” said Dr. Hart, an associate professor of psychology. “And the small number who do become addicted are nothing like the popular caricatures.” [...]

Yes, he notes, some children were abandoned by crack-addicted parents, but many families in his neighborhood were torn apart before crack — including his own. (He was raised largely by his grandmother.) Yes, his cousins became destitute crack addicts living in a shed, but they’d dropped out of school and had been unemployed long before crack came along.

“There seemed to be at least as many — if not more — cases in which illicit drugs played little or no role than were there situations in which their pharmacological effects seemed to matter,” writes Dr. Hart, now 46. Crack and meth may be especially troublesome in some poor neighborhoods and rural areas, but not because the drugs themselves are so potent. [...]

A similar assessment comes from Dr. David Nutt, a British expert on drug abuse. “I have a great deal of sympathy with Carl’s views,” said Dr. Nutt, a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London. “Addiction always has a social element, and this is magnified in societies with little in the way of work or other ways to find fulfillment.”

So why do we keep focusing so much on specific drugs? One reason is convenience: It’s much simpler for politicians and journalists to focus on the evils of a drug than to grapple with the underlying social problems. But Dr. Hart also puts some of the blame on scientists.

“Eighty to 90 percent of people are not negatively affected by drugs, but in the scientific literature nearly 100 percent of the reports are negative,” Dr. Hart said. “There’s a skewed focus on pathology. We scientists know that we get more money if we keep telling Congress that we’re solving this terrible problem. We’ve played a less than honorable role in the war on drugs.”

[Thanks, Scott]

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Pete Guither is the editor of drugwarrant.com

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