Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Addiction Myth

Supporters of the War on Drugs routinely argue as if most or all illegal drugs were addictive in a reasonably strong sense—use them a few time and you are hooked. Some recent data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health show how wildly wrong that belief is.

The figure for heroin, one of the most addictive drugs studied, is that of people who first used heroin from 13 to 24 months prior to the interview, 69.4% didn't use heroin at all during the 12 months before the interview and only 13.4% were dependent on heroin during that year. Of people first using crack during the 13-24 month prior period, over three quarters had not used it in the year before the interview.


At 5:11 PM, April 20, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Something that's always bugged me about the War on Drugs is that all "drugs" are treated more or less interchangeably.

"Why are drugs bad?" For any given "drug", some subset of the following things are true:
* it's addictive,
* it directly causes violent behavior,
* it causes short-term sensory, reflex, or judgment impairment,
* it has long-term negative physical health effects,
* it has long-term negative psychological health effects,
* it's illegal, thus sending its users, buyers, and sellers underground, restricting supply and raising profit margins to the point that it's worth killing people for sales territory,

etc. Each of these is a legitimate reason for a drug to be considered "bad", but the appropriate response to an individual drug depends on which of these criteria it meets.

At 5:09 AM, April 21, 2008, Blogger Russ Nelson said...

Addiction is all in the head. You can be addicted to something which is not chemical, e.g. love, and you can kick a very addictive drug when you have no more need for it, e.g. troops returning from Vietnam kicking their heroin addiction on the plane, withdrawal symptoms and all.

At 7:49 AM, April 21, 2008, Blogger Seth said...

I've read that the most addictive drug is tobacco (in the senses that it's harder to kick than heroin, and easier to get addicted with initial usage).

At 8:39 AM, April 21, 2008, Blogger Matt Brubeck said...

Given my experience with crack and heroin addicts, 9.2% and 13.4% dependency rates are still not risks I think most people would take if they fully understood the consequences. Of course, the lack of good information is itself an effect of prohibition.

I find it interesting that the study includes alcohol but not tobacco.

At 11:00 AM, April 21, 2008, Blogger Bill said...

I think I support legalizing hard drugs, but I would like to hear about some success stories. What countries have legalized heroin or crack and things are better then the countries where it is illegal? I specifically want to know about countries that had a problem and this was part of the solution. Not "Bolivians have a history of chewing cocoa leaves and no problem".

At 4:42 PM, April 21, 2008, Blogger Stephen Smith said...

Something else to remember about crack and meth use is that it likely wouldn't happen if cocaine were legal. (Anyone ever seen the Wire? Notice how the rich drug dealers do cocaine, while the poor customers buy crack?)

At 4:47 PM, April 21, 2008, Blogger Stephen Smith said...


Addiction is not "all in the head" for some drugs. For marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy (not that I've ever met anyone addicted to E) – yeah, all in your head. If you were made to somehow forget that you ever did those drugs, you'd be the same as anyone else. Heroin, nicotine, caffeine, and (I believe) crack cocaine are all physically addictive, though. I've heard that in rare cases, opiate withdrawal can be deadly. But headaches, diarrhea, constipation, etc. are all physical ailments that will afflict you if you try to quit cold turkey.

At 11:57 PM, April 21, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Come on now... we all know the only "bad/illegal" drugs are those that would cut into the profits of the pharmaceutical cartel.

Why would people need to pay big drug companies for vicodin, oxycodone, hydrocodone, etc. if they were smoking opium in their own homes or a controlled den?

We don't have to get into all the medicinal benefits of THC. It's called "weed" for a reason. If people were able to cultivate and prepare medicines cheaply on their own, what would the pharmaceutical cartel do for profits?

I suppose the other question is why drugs in pill form more socially acceptable?

At 10:54 AM, April 23, 2008, Blogger John Fast said...

In addition, at least when I was in government school (over 30 years ago), supporters of the War on Drugs also spoke as though drugs caused crime by making people violent.

As far as I know, the only drugs of which that is true are PCP and alcohol.

At 1:07 AM, April 24, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if the data is skewed by some perverse variant of the "success bias", or whatever it called, where you're only able to interview people who haven't killed themselves with their drug use?

I was hoping to have something meaningful to add to these comments due to the fact that I've been a daily intravenous heroin user for years at a time. But strangely enough, my personal experience hasn't provided me with any special insight into understanding heroin addiction. I still find myself believing that addiction is a choice, even when I was seemingly unable to choose not to use.

I always convinced myself that my incentives weren't right. I could quit for a million dollars, or maybe even for something as frivolous as having sex with a beautiful young, smart, college girl who thought she could help me get my life together. But could I quit to make my wife, who I love dearly, happy? Nope. Could I quit in order to excel at my job, get the big raises, and the challenging assignments? No. Could I quit to make sure that I was around to watch my kids grow up? No.

It's weird. It really is. Just plain weird.

I will say this. It is a thousand times easier to quit smoking cigarettes than it is to quit using heroin. I don't know how anybody who has made a habit of both could ever think otherwise.

At 5:59 AM, April 26, 2008, Blogger Russ Nelson said...

@stephen, I realize that some drugs are physically addictive. I'm saying that the thing whivh keeps people using 'addictive' drugs is in their heads. Read Stanton Poole.

At 5:45 PM, May 31, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
I wonder if the data is skewed by some perverse variant of the "success bias", or whatever it called, where you're only able to interview people who haven't killed themselves with their drug use?

Your not alone in your wondering

Why are drugs bad? Ask the children of addicts who have lived the.. BAD

At 10:50 AM, July 24, 2008, Blogger kurt9 said...

The reasons given for making a particular drug illegal:

* it's addictive,
* it directly causes violent behavior,
* it causes short-term sensory, reflex, or judgment impairment,
* it has long-term negative physical health effects,
* it has long-term negative psychological health effects

seem to be a red herring, because many drugs are often pre-emptively banned even though there is no published scientific research indicating that a particular substance is bad for you. Ecstasy is one example here.

I think most, if not all, recreational substances are bad for you, medically speaking. However, I do not think most of them are any worse than alcohol or cigarettes. The opiates (Heroin) are notoriously addictive. However, many former junkies will tell you that cigarettes are way more addictive than Heroin, and they happen to be legal. Knowing anyone with COPD will make it clear that the long term health effects of cigarettes are just as debilitating, if not more, than Heroin use.

Personally, I believe they should all be legalized. However, I would be more sympathetic to the argument of keeping them illegal if the same ban were to be applied to both tobacco and alcohol. The fact that some substances (such as alcohol and tobacco) are legal and others are not illustrates the hypocrisy of the drug war.

At 9:06 PM, August 13, 2008, Blogger Unknown said...

The behaviour of an addict is often compulsive and does not rationalise or quantify their actions and consequences. Increased and extreme repetition of actions is common as it provides feelings of being on a 'high' and increases adrenalin production giving the 'feel good' factor.


alcoholism treatment

At 12:36 PM, October 07, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Addiction is bullshit...I smoked for ten years and then one days I said fuck this...and quit cold turkey...didn't have one minute of withdrawls nothing...was like I never smoked in the first place...and haven't had a craving for one since and that was three years ago so to all you addicts...GET REAL...Stop blaming your problems on drugs and alcohol...The real problem is YOU...


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