Drug Use Pleasant, Study Says

|

In yesterday's New York Times, health reporter and conventional wisdom barometer Jane Brody notes a startling scientific discovery: "Every addictive substance, according to a report this month in The New England Journal of Medicine, induces pleasant states or relieves distress."

Did anyone think that people liked drugs because they induced unpleasant states or increased distress? And what's so special about drug use in this respect? Couldn't other activities that induce pleasant states or relieve distress–gambling, eating, sex, exercise, watching TV, Web surfing, playing video games, etc.–also be the focus of an addiction?

Brody does not say. She is too busy reinforcing the image of drugs as malevolent forces that take control of people and force them to sin:

The authors of the report…wrote, "Continued use induces adaptive changes in the central nervous system that lead to tolerance, physical dependence, sensitization, craving and relapse."

In other words, addiction is a brain disease, not a moral failing or behavior problem. People do not deliberately set out to become addicts. Rather, for any number of reasons — like wanting to be part of the crowd or seeking relief from intense emotional or physical pain — people may start using a substance and soon find themselves unable to stop.

Yet Brody's gloss does not follow from the observation that drugs affect the central nervous system. So does every experience. When we learn something or form a habit, our brains change. Does that make bad beliefs and bad habits brain diseases?

Likewise, Brody tells us that "drugs of abuse [activate] a pleasure pathway in the brain, the 'dopamine reward circuit,' which is connected to areas that control memory, emotion and motivation. Any activity that activates those pathways reinforces the pleasurable behavior."

Again, in what sense is this dopamine activation fundamentally different from the pleasure people experience from a wide variety of non-drug-related activities? Shouldn't the focus be on whether bad consequences flow from a particular activity, not whether it affects dopamine levels?

Although Brody depicts drugs as irresistible and inescapable, later in the article she cites figures indicating that most drug users do not become addicted. And while she claims that addicts "find themselves unable to stop," she also says, "That it is possible to become free of addictions and remain so is unquestioned." Not only that, but "some addicts manage to kick their habits without any outside help."

According to Brody, these logical leaps and self-contradictions amount to "a better understanding of the pull and tug of addiction."

[Thanks to Jeff Schaler for the link.]

NEXT: Dump a Couch, Lose Your Beemer

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Its just the same age old fear of people having fun in ways you don’t understand. If she can’t have fun with drugs, then obviously nobody should.

    I’ve just taken up skydiving, and let me tell you, that creates a hellofalot more substances in my brain then smoking a joint or snorting a line. I can feel the effects of a few dives days later. In fact, just thinking of previous dives and imagining myself doing it again can drastically alter my mood. So shouldn’t we be banning jumping from perfectly good planes? “For the children” of course.

  2. So yes, “Every addictive substance, according to a report this month in The New England Journal of Medicine, induces pleasant states or relieves distress” is a little trite (and obvious). It’s just a (albeit clumsy) transition statement, not really the point of the article. What’s YOUR point, Jacob?

    “Brody’s gloss does not follow from…” blah blah blah. It’s a NEWSPAPER article for cryin’ out loud, not a paper from a peer-reviewed journal. And it’s relatively meaty as these things go. Most newspaper science articles are far more vapid.

    It seems to me that if anyone ever even hints that there is a downside to drug use, you are all over them like piranhas on a capybara.

  3. yeah, basically. i think you’re nuts for jumping out of a plane, but i can’t understand the impulse which then drives people to try and stop you from doing it.

    i’m terribly afraid of heights so i mean nuts in the nicest way possible 🙂

  4. As best I can tell, according to Brody I am addicted to using the toilet. Please help me break the cycle.

  5. “I can feel the effects of a few dives days later.”

    Like what?

  6. If only reading Jane Brody induced a pleasant state…

  7. Speaking of logical leaps, there’s also the matter of Mr. Sullum’s predictable, twice-weekly howler, usually along the lines of:

    Although Brody depicts drugs as irresistible and inescapable, later in the article she cites figures indicating that most drug users do not become addicted. And while she claims that addicts “find themselves unable to stop,” she also says, “That it is possible to become free of addictions and remain so is unquestioned.” Not only that, but “some addicts manage to kick their habits without any outside help.”

    which he treats as some kind of “gotcha!” moment “proving” that there’s no such thing as addiction by catching his perceived ideological foe in a contradiction. Which he hasn’t.

    We get it, Jake. You’ve been smoking pot and enjoying the finest in Belgian beer and eating sugary snacks on and off for twenty years without becoming addicted to any of them. I’m sure your mother is proud.

    But what’s with the compulsion to deny there’s such a thing as addiction? I don’t think it’s a prerequsite for arguing that drug laws and prohibitions are stupid and wrong. Do you?

  8. s.m. :

    Persistent attacks on the current hypocrisy about addiction are important, because the government and non governmental nannies (NGNs?) have now established a floating definition that serves to justify the regulation of anything they don’t like, and that justification is that such and such takes control of you and you can’t help yourself.

    There may be such a thing as addiction that isn’t so bad. Maybe people should address compulsive behavior with drugs like they address compulsive hand washing – as a very specific mental tic that affects some people. Treat the man, not the handsoap.

  9. I hate having a good time, I’m a maniac.

  10. EMAIL: draime2000@yahoo.com
    IP: 62.213.67.122
    URL: http://www.enlargement-for-penis.com
    DATE: 01/26/2004 06:21:27
    It’s safer to play with a man’s wife than with his cliches.

  11. I’m severely addicted to water, after a couple days without it I begin to feel really bad, I bet if I was to kick this evil addiction it would probably result in my death. Or getting bad sick or something !!

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.