The Government's Addiction Expert Says We Like What We Like Because We Like It

A fawning New York Times profile of Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, repeatedly quotes and seemingly endorses her reductionist view that "addiction is all about the dopamine." Whether the attachment is to chocolate, jogging, alcohol, cocaine, or heroin, the Times explains, its essence can be found in the way such stimuli affect levels of this neurotransmitter in "the small central zone of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, which is thought to be the main reward center." And what determines that? The Times says the leading theory is that "addiction requires two things": 1)  "a genetic vulnerability" and 2) "repeated assaults." In other words, any person who is genetically predisposed to like a particular stimulus will become addicted to it after sufficient exposure.

That's an awfully convenient theory, since it means that anyone who tries, say, methamphetamine but does not become addicted either did not use it enough or was saved by his genes. These explanations can never be disproved, since Volkow does not claim she can identify genetically vulnerable people ahead of time or specify how many doses it will take before they are hooked. And as the Times concedes, "only a minority of novices...will develop the compulsion to keep taking the drug at great personal cost, a behavior that defines addiction." The Times also mentions that "the social milieu of the addicted individual" is important in determining whether he will succeed in quitting. So I guess it's not "all about the dopamine"—a mantra that either explains too much (since every pleasurable activity affects the "reward center") or nothing at all.

Furthermore, although the Times says Volkow herself is addicted to chocolate, jogging, and (especially) "the science of scanning the brain with techniques that expose its workings like a map," it never broaches the question of when addiction qualifies as a problem, let alone one that justifies forcible government intervention. Speaking of which, the profile includes a breathtakingly arrogant quote from Volkow regarding her mission to prevent nonmedical use of prescription drugs: "In the past, when we have addressed the issue of controlled substances...we have been addressing drugs that we could remove from the earth and no one would suffer."

Does Volkow really believe that she can scientifically and infallibly identify the plants and other psychoactive substances that no one would miss, that cannabis, LSD, psilocybin, etc. have no redeeming value because she says so? What gives her the authority to make such determinations? As far as I can tell, nothing more than a government paycheck.

[Thanks to Richard Cowan for the tip.]

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  • Joe M||

    Does Volkow really believe that she can scientifically and infallibly identify the plants and other psychoactive substances that no one would miss, that cannabis, LSD, psilocybin, etc. have no redeeming value because she says so? What gives her the authority to make such determinations? As far as I can tell, nothing more than a government paycheck.

    Jacob, how could you miss this key point from the NYT article?

    An interview with the neuroscientist in charge of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, who also happens to be the great-granddaughter of Leon Trotsky.
  • Contrarian P||

    The fact is that we're not really sure what transmitters might be responsible for anything, as there's really no good way to reliably study them. Nobody is sure exactly why certain people become addicted to things and others don't. There are theories out there, but it's impossible to do controlled studies, so it's all conjecture. This lady I'm sure means well, but the article is full of crap.

  • Old Man With Candy||

    No, she doesn't mean well. She means to run other people's lives for them as she sees fit.

  • fgdhlgh||

    yup,

    see my other comment for testimony

    besides, almost every person I know who studies cognitive-neuroscience or philosophy is pretty damn pro-psychedelia

  • ¢||

    "And you sort of bulldoze from the back of the balls, like this."

  • Zuo||

    So when can we expect joggers to catch a nightstick in the teeth for their addiction?

  • Michael Bloomberg||

    I'll be meeting with the commissioner about this new initiative on Thursday.

  • Zuo||

    That sunken cheeked bitch looks like a ghoulish addict herself.

  • Brett L||

    She could use a cheeseburger addiction.

  • Otto||

    Is that a picture of the expert, or a random selection from "Faces of Meth"?

  • pmains||

    I thought Carrot Top was trying to move away from the prop gags.

  • ||

    That picture will haunt your nightmares.

  • Old Man With Candy||

    Think of her and rather with a double dildo. That will help you overcome your sex addiction.

  • ||

    But, but, I'm genetically predispositioned to like sex!

  • Anonymous Coward||

    I'd sooner have a Jared Loughner picture every day than accidentally peek at that zombie in the article again.

  • ||

    That's because you've been exposed to his picture so much that you've become addicted to it ;)

  • ||

    That's how the Crypt Keeper likes it.

  • mr simple||

    This is clearly another plot by Skeletor to get He-Man's sword of power.

  • spencer||

    What if you can quit any time you want? That's genetic, right? What if you are addicted after one dose? Genetic. What if it takes 20 times? bad genes and enough stimuli.

    It's unbeatable!

  • ||

    From the article: In other words, these drugs must be somehow legal and illegal, encouraged yet discouraged, tightly regulated yet easily available.

    Why, pray tell, should anything be "encouraged" or "discouraged" when it comes to what other people choose to consume? Who should do the encouraging, and in what manner? If your answer starts with anything resembling "We must..." I have a hearty "fuck off, slaver" to offer you.

    The fact that the above gets tossed off wholly unexamined is depressing.

  • Otto||

    It's hard for me to believe that anyone who has really thought about the War on Drugs could support it, with the exception of those who want their morality enforced at gunpoint and make no bones about it.

    Since there is absolutely no benefit from these laws (with the possible exception of potentially keeping a few skittish dilettantes away from drugs), it's mainly inertia that keeps them in place. People have lived with these laws their entire lives, they simply cannot imagine what it would be like if they were removed.

    The basis for the WoD, the cost of the WoD, and the real effects of the WoD all go unexamined and unquestioned in the minds of far too many people. I think this is why it's kept in place. It is a very, very costly lack of imagination on the part of the public.

  • ||

    I'm not sure if that's more optimistic or less. Vicious moralizing or placid complacency? Neither bodes well for advancing liberty.

  • Y'all||

    Sounds a lot like the rationales for why slavery persisted as long as it did. Addiction? The WoD defines slavish addiction. (Also: doing the same thing over & over and expecting a different outcome. Isn't 40 years (or 70, or 120, depending on your metric) enough? Pleez Baby Jeezus; stop the insanity and end prohibition now.

  • AlmightyJB||

    "It's hard for me to believe that anyone who has REALLY THOUGHT about the War on Drugs could support it"

    That's the problem. They would have to THINK, which is much too hard for them. They bitch about government spending one minute, the next they're bitching about why the goverment doesn't "do something" about this problem or that problem. Usually regarding the latter they're just parroting some news writer or anchor.

  • GoldAkston||

    I'm not clear on why Jacob used a picture of Chelsea Handler with this post.

  • Chelsea Handler||

    Chuey...honey....go kick Akstons ass!

  • Barely Suppressed Rage||

    I'm addicted to coming here to Hit & Run and reading all the comments, but I get no pleasure center reward; no dopamine rush from it.

    So WTF is up with that?

  • ||

    It's genetics. Did you have a parent or grandparent that was an H&R regular?

  • ||

    I'm pretty sure my immunity is the result of a timetraveling mishap where I accidentally became my own grandfather.

  • ||

    Years ago, some friends at SIU were watching a porn called Backside to the Future where a chick went back in time and had sex with herself. I'd rank it up there with Edward Penishands.

  • ||

    Ah yes, the famous "it doesn't have any affect on me."

    You need to try harder!

  • Otto||

    ...the profile includes a breathtakingly arrogant quote from Volkow..."In the past, when we have addressed the issue of controlled substances...we have been addressing drugs that we could remove from the earth and no one would suffer."

    "Breathtakingly arrogant" is a kind description. The distortions, propaganda, and outright falsehoods promulgated by the government about psychoactive substances over the past 100 years would be hilarious if the public policy consequences weren't so tragic. Volkow is simply the latest in a long line of masters of deceit adding to the sad pointless waste of this nation's drug policy.

  • MFawful||

    Anything which is enjoyed enough that people will pay for it must be prohibited. For our own good.

  • Robert Palmer||

    I'm addicted to love.

  • Weird Al||

    I'm addicted to spuds.

  • ||

    Government is addicted to power.

  • EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy||

    No youtube link? Really?

    Bad poster! No [biskit|latte|5 km|illicit substance]!

  • Huey Lewis||

    I want a new drug.

  • ||

    Have you tried MDMA?

  • Love||

    I didn't mean to turn you on.

  • Untermensch||

    That's an awfully convenient theory, since it means that anyone who tries, say, methamphetamine but does not become addicted either did not use it enough or was saved by his genes.

    It's also fundamentally a theological argument, just like this:

    If you're saved you'll never fall away; if you fall away it just proves you were never saves to begin with.

    Because it is a theological argument in nature (rather than a scientific one) you can't disprove it and those who will believe it will believe it and those who won't, won't.

  • ||

    I think you're confusing "theological" with "tautological."

  • ||

    And the difference between the two is what, exactly?

  • Fartnoise||

    Is that a picture of Nora Volkow or Michael Des Barres?

  • Progressive Guy||

    Wait, if the problem is not stimuli but genes, then the cure for addiction is simple -- just purge society of the genetically inferior! Wow, I'm surprised no one has thought of this approach before; it seems so obvious now.

  • ||

    Don't be an imbecile.

  • Number 2||

    Since when did the "definition of addiction" become "a compulsion to continue using the drug despite great social cost?" What happened to chemical dependency, withdrawal, etc.? This "definition" is so absurdly overbroad as to deny the term of any meaning at all.

  • ||

    What is "social cost" anyway?

  • cynical||

    It's when you do things that make Baby Government cry.

  • Trespassers W||

    You, sir or madam, are a winner tonight.

  • Government Official||

    Social Cost is when you get arrested and put in jail, then your lost earnings are calculated. The earlier we get you the more social cost. That's why it's so destructive for you young people to use drugs. You would have earned so much ...

  • ||

    See, if the government just seized all your earnings from day one, you would never be able to buy the drugs you would get addicted to in the first place, and there would be no social cost ever! Holy crap, that's brilliant! Leave it to the experts! Like Nora Volkow!

  • Brett L||

    It didn't fit things like food/chocolate/exercise/sex addiction. Got in the way of their power play.

  • fgdhlgh||

    In the past, when we have addressed the issue of controlled substances...we have been addressing drugs that we could remove from the earth and no one would suffer."

    cannabis, LSD, psilocybin,too name a few, have forever changed my life and outlook in ways that for me personally, I evaluate as infintely superior.
    honestly, I probably would killed myself without them. Instead, I am writing this sober and happy as a bird about my personal state while writing this. In general,I think I am psychologically and emotionally healthier and more stable than 98% of the people in this country. My only problem is that people like this make me very, very angry. Because if they had their way, I'd be dead because they know what's best for me.
    Stupid arrogant bitch-slaves all of them.

  • cynical||

    Well, that makes it self-defense.

  • Number 2||

    I, on the other hand, feel this compulsion to remain sober despite the great soclal cost is imposes on me (e.g., overwork, worries about money, fights with spouse over who takes Junior to the bus stop, etc). I must be addicted to sobriety!

  • ||

    Don't worry, the SWAT team will be there soon to assist you.

  • ||

    Why is that velociraptor holding a brain model?

  • ||

    It's for a velociraptor cooking show.

  • AlmightyJB||

    :)

  • ||

    LOL
    Velociraptor: Now, when choosing your brains, WHATEVER you do, do not get government brains. Some say they don't exist, but they do - they're just small, tough yet mushy, and lack a broad range of experience that we call "complexity."

  • ||

    Avoid government employees and prisoners. Try to find certified free range organic.

  • Shelby||

    What gives her the authority ... nothing more than a government paycheck

    Isn't that all it takes, anymore?

  • F. Hart||

    Someone once told me not to have sex while on MDMA. He said I'd never enjoy it again, without it.

  • ||

    That's a load of crap. Sex while on MDMA is amazing, no question, but it's just as good afterward as it was before. If that makes sense.

  • Amakudari||

    I read half of this earlier and had to stop.

    Man, fuck her, and she deserves hard prison time for her addiction to chocolate. I hate that sneering condescension when people tout their little "addictions," but oh, hey, these addictions are actually good things!

    Also, when I was a kid it was really scary when she had those kids cornered in the kitchen and the little girl had to hide in the oven.

  • ||

    The whole pop-neuroscience, it's all DOPAMINE, your genes made you a druggie simplistic, deterministic bullshit drives me up a fucking wall.

  • ||

    It's not all bullshit. True, the "currency of pleasure" is Dopamine. But some drugs give you pleasure the way fucking and eating food gives you pleasure. You're doing something that is satisfying some other physical or emotional need, and eventually some part of your brain (nucleus accumbens, ventral tagmental area) rewards you with a nice dopamine burst.

    Other drugs have a *direct* impact on dopamine levels. It's the difference between enjoying a drink, and shooting dopamine directly into your bloodstream.

  • AlmightyJB||

    "shooting dopamine directly into your bloodstream"

    not without FDA approval you won't.

  • ||

    I agree to a point, but sometimes when things are put into layman's terms it gives the impression that the speaker has a greater understanding than they actually do.

    This lady wants to scream from the mountaintop her simplistic theory, when the truth is more subtle (or unknown).

    So if I take morphine I will get a shot of dopamine and that makes me feel good just like when I run? Hmmmm How come running doesn't cure junk sickness? How come heroin makes me puke, but dopamine antagonist will cure that (without losing that good feeling)? What's the bbb? GABA?

    The truth is that the pathways and mechanisms of intoxication are far too complex to be boiled down to "dopamine=running=meth". But it's hard to justify putting people in prison when the government experts admit that they don't know what the fuck they are talking about.

  • ||

    Not that complete understanding would give the government moral authority over people's brains.

  • ||

  • AlmightyJB||

    I hope you didn't send a donation

  • ||

    No, but if it's real I want one...bad.

  • DI||

    A fawning New York Times profile of Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, repeatedly quotes and seemingly endorses her reductionist view that "addiction is all about the dopamine." Whether the attachment is to chocolate, jogging, alcohol, cocaine, or heroin, the Times explains, its essence can be found in the way such stimuli affect levels of this neurotransmitter in "the small central zone of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, which is thought to be the main reward center." And what determines that?

    The level of pleasure chemicals, like dopamine, that result from a person engaging in a specific activity. Asked and answered.

    What's your question, Jacob?

  • Homer Simpson||

    mmm dopamine

  • Geoff||

    I'm attending a conference on music and the mind at Rice University this week. Just this evening David Huron, a neuropsychologist of music who studies, among other things, neurological reactions to certain kinds of music, showed that older people got dopamine 'highs' while listening to music that was big in their teens and early twenties. So I guess it's addictive and should also be regulated.
    Cool stuff. Unlike the weird stuff in the article being referenced.

  • ||

    take the "Big Bopper" away in cuffs...

  • ||

    They'll get my Sublime when they pry it from my cold dead hands.

  • ||

    I still love me some Tull, but it sounded better when I was high.

  • DI||

    among other things, neurological reactions to certain kinds of music, showed that older people got dopamine 'highs' while listening to music that was big in their teens and early twenties.

    Glee has bridged a generation gap!

  • LarryA||

    "In the past, when we have addressed the issue of controlled substances...we have been addressing drugs that we could remove from the earth and no one would suffer."

    You mean like all the substances our WoD has “removed from the earth” without anyone suffering?

    Dear Ms. Volkow,
    Prohibition doesn’t work! No government in world history has managed to shut down a black market with use of force.

  • ||

    we have been addressing drugs that we could remove from the earth and no one would suffer

    Of course we would just stop at those drugs. There is never a slippery slope.

  • ||

    Well we have been trying for 40 years to remove illegal drugs from the face of the earth. Hows that working out for us?

  • ||

    Talk about junk science. Thinking and action are not ordinary biological functions. If they were, we would all act the same way. Using drugs or whatever would be as irresistible as breathing or eating. It would be just what we do. But it is not. Lots of people find the high associated with drugs completely unappealing. Other find it appealing but still choose not to do it.

    When some crackpot tells you that people do this or that because of dopamine or genes or whatever, they might as well be telling you that you are doing it because it is God's will. Both statements are equally scientific, which is to say not at all.

  • Metazoan||

    Actually, they are ordinary biological functions. The thing is, they are controlled by systems shaped by environment/genomic factors etc. that cause different people to respond differently. The other thing to remember is that these drugs are having their effect on single ion channels and receptors- usually just a couple protein molecules. Actual scientific studies have shown that ion channel and receptor dynamics are in fact highly probabilistic, making predictions about what will happen significantly more challenging.

  • ||

    It is probabilistic, which is another way of saying we can't predict it with certainty, which is another way of saying we really don't understand it but can only describe it.

  • ||

    This bitch is actually the great grand daughter of Trotsky. But make no mistake, it is her junk science that is driving drug prohibition. If addicts really can't help themselves and drug addiction is some kind of mental illness rather than just a symptom of being a degenerate, then society has not choice but to try to limit the availability of drugs to the greatest extent possible via prohibition. It is this garbage that drives the rehab industry and the whole fear based prison industrial complex.

    And it is junk science. If drug addicts cannot help themselves, no one would ever quit anything they were addicted to. They would be physically unable to do so.

  • Stephen Smith||

    I love the "I'm addicted to dark chocolate and running!" part. It's like some Apartheid-era judge who condemns to prison someone for miscegenation and jokes at the sentencing, "Hey, I also have a soft spot for darkies – my wife's Greek!"

  • ||

    +1

  • ||

    Of course she is "addicted". But if tomorrow her doctor told her that if she didn't stop running she would drop dead of a heart attack, she would find that addiction so easy to stop.

  • Brett L||

    It's only a mile or two. What could it hurt?

  • ||

    "She would find that addiction so easy to stop",you obviously are not experienced in this field and therefore know nothing about addiction.Always think before typing good sir

  • ||

    She's addicted to power. But at least now we know what a female Gollum would look like.

  • ||

    I know Volkow and I've worked on NIDA grants in the past, and I find it really hard to disagree with anything said here (minus the hyperbolic stuff). I don't know why the neuro-scientific community seems so addicted to simplistic genetic/chemical explanations, other than it succeeds in getting money out of congressmen, or fawning NYT profiles for ourselves. We know a lot about neurochemistry now, and almost nothing about why people get depressed or addicted. As a scientist it is kind of cool to watch a paradigm slowly collapse, as a human being I wish it would hurry up so we could get past all the BS policy consequences of these just-so stories.

  • ||

    this bitch looks like there is another 'addiction' that isnt mentioned in this NYT profile... crack

  • ||

    I made a comment yesterday on another site that mentioned NIDA, and some guy objected when I suggested that NIDA might not be the most objective, unbiased source. "But it's Science!" I really didn't know where to start...

  • IPCC||

    Whatever do you mean?

  • ||

    Oh, and Nora Volkow looks like Michael Jackson and Weird Al had a kid...

  • Jorge K||

    Though Volkow does look unusual, works for our corrupted government and comes from a highly controversial family my positive feelings about the specific work described by Zugar and that we're funding with our taxes remain strong despite the snarks here. Volkow's judgement about what substances are worthy seems offensive, but must be expected given her official position within the power corridors of drug war profiteers. Overall the the piece seems to promote the conclusion that criminalization of drug use makes no sense. So I see Volkow as actually subverting the dominant paradigm that prolongs the WOD.

  • ||

    well, i can tell you that unless you want to stop yourself,it is very hard to stop doing street durgs, let alone prescription grugs. i am so very serious, i have a child back at home that KNOWS she has to stop Takin thes drugs, and she has tried.she did good on suboxone. she also has hep.c to. she must stop all medication in order to live,before she starts this program.
    GOD BLESS EVERY WITH THIS PROBLEM

  • ||

    There is plenty of help out there for anyone with the brain disease of addiction.Don't pay no mind to the negative remarks on here for they all are response to someone who clearly wrote an article about something he has no idea about and his quote of her was taken out of context, clearly.I wish your daughter the best.

  • mineral process equipment||

    If addicts really can't help themselves and drug addiction is some kind of mental illness rather than just a symptom of being a degenerate, then society has not choice but to try to limit the availability of drugs to the greatest extent possible via prohibition.

  • ||

    "Society" or "Government" has been "trying" to limit the availability of drugs since Nixon's WAR ON DRUGS speech.Though adaptations in the brain are a result of prolonged drug use doesn't mean that an addicted person is doomed.With proper medications in some case and therapy a person begins to evolve into a better state of mind.Freedom from those drugs allow the brain to repair itself in many case.The longer they don't use the drugs the better chance they have of having a normal healthy functional brain again.

  • fine crusher||

    Though Volkow does look unusual, works for our corrupted government and comes from a highly controversial family my positive feelings about the specific work described by Zugar and that we're funding with our taxes remain strong despite the snarks here. Volkow's judgement about what substances are worthy seems offensive, but must be expected given her official position within the power corridors of drug war profiteers.

  • ||

    Her grandfather had his own political and moral belief as we do. How does one person constitute a "whole family being controversial?" She never stated "what substances were worthy" so why would you take offense? The person who wrote the article should never had been allowed to submit such a misquoted piece.

  • grinding plant||

    Lipu heavy industry is a professional Mobile Crushing Plant manufacturer and exporter in China. We are specializing in Mobile Crushing Plant. These products are been delivered to Europe, United States, Asia, the Middle East, Russia, Africa etc. countries. We are expanding more cooperation partners all over the world.

  • ||

    I seen the interview that you got your quote from and you are miss using that quote. She said that the field has been thinking "controlled substances" as in only plants that we could remove from the earth and therefore no one would be addicted to them.She said nothing about anyone actually removing any plant. Yes we can see how certain chemicals in the brain are effected when certain drugs are abused.And we can also see what these natural chemicals such as dopamine are responsible for with regards to movement,or even emotions.I don't know where some of you smart people get your information from but welcome to America!!!!!

  • شات عراقنا||

    thank u

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