We’ve got addiction all wrong

So, as mentioned, I’m reading a terrific book on the War on Drugs called Chasing the Scream by Johan Hari.  As evil and stupid as I already thought the war on drugs to be, I know realize it is even far more evil and stupid than I had already realized.  I truly think 100 years from now, society will look back on this with a “what the hell where people thinking?!”  Among the most compelling sections of the book is on the science of addiction and how our basic models of addiction seem to be largely wrong.  It’s not that drugs ruin lives (they do), but that people with ruined lives turn to drugs.  The vast majority of people who use most drugs– including opiates– never become addicted.  That should tell us something, but we cling to this model of purely physical addiction.  (Now, go and read that Rat Park comic I linked in quick hits).  Hari has a nice piece at HuffPo summarizing all the evidence on addiction.  Well worth your time to read:

If you still believe — as I used to — that addiction is caused by chemical hooks, this makes no sense. But if you believe Bruce Alexander’s theory, the picture falls into place. The street-addict is like the rats in the first cage, isolated, alone, with only one source of solace to turn to. The medical patient is like the rats in the second cage. She is going home to a life where she is surrounded by the people she loves. The drug is the same, but the environment is different.

This gives us an insight that goes much deeper than the need to understand addicts. Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.

So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection…

But the Office of the Surgeon General has found that just 17.7 percent of cigarette smokers are able to stop using nicotine patches. That’s not nothing. If the chemicals drive 17.7 percent of addiction, as this shows, that’s still millions of lives ruined globally. But what it reveals again is that the story we have been taught about The Cause of Addiction lying with chemical hooks is, in fact, real, but only a minor part of a much bigger picture.

This has huge implications for the one-hundred-year-old war on drugs. This massive war — which, as I saw, kills people from the malls of Mexico to the streets of Liverpool — is based on the claim that we need to physically eradicate a whole array of chemicals because they hijack people’s brains and cause addiction. But if drugs aren’t the driver of addiction — if, in fact, it is disconnection that drives addiction — then this makes no sense.

Ironically, the war on drugs actually increases all those larger drivers of addiction. For example, I went to a prison in Arizona — ‘Tent City’ — where inmates are detained in tiny stone isolation cages (‘The Hole’) for weeks and weeks on end to punish them for drug use. It is as close to a human recreation of the cages that guaranteed deadly addiction in rats as I can imagine. And when those prisoners get out, they will be unemployable because of their criminal record — guaranteeing they with be cut off even more. I watched this playing out in the human stories I met across the world.

Great stuff.  And huge implications for how we think about what we do with drugs.  Also, a nice TED talk on the matter if you are so inclined.

Quick hits (part I)

Lots of good stuff.  Let’s go!

1) A friend with a nice piece on the true story behind Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

2) Bill Ayers on America’s fear problem:

I make this point because the gap between the macro-level facts and our fears is enormous and seems to be growing larger. Contrast this to past periods in history when people were legitimately frightened of important things. In the early 1800s, for example, there was a worldwide epidemic of crop failures and famines (caused, as it turns out, by amassive volcanic eruption in the South Pacific that was barely noticed at the time). Thousands died of starvation, millions became refugees, and the political and cultural landscape of much of the world was rewritten. In Europe, authoritarianism made a comeback against the early revolutionary gains of the Enlightenment as people decided that freedom could be sacrificed for food and safety.

Compare that world to our time – and then to the rhetoric we hear every day. Donald Trump and Daesh do share something in common – they have found ways to elevate people’s fears, to paint a picture of a world gone not just wrong but horribly wrong, so wrong that radical and formerly unthinkable action must be taken. These dystopian views are so far removed from reality that those of us who don’t share them are left shaking our heads at the insanity of it all.

3) Vox on how America’s lead problem is far more than Flint.

4) Why are humans the only animals with chins?  (Who knew?!)  Good question.

5) On Rubio’s blinders when it comes to Cuba policy.

6) Texas 8th grader suspended for helping classmate during a serious asthma attack.  The people who did the suspending and the teacher who wanted to wait for the school nurse to answer an email should be out of jobs.

7) I’ve probably linked this before, but I was reminded of it in a conversation with a student the other day.  I first came across it in an article proclaiming it the best TV ad ever.  It sure is damn good.

8) Nice Molly Ball piece on why so many in the Republican Party loathe Ted Cruz:

But a Republican policy expert close to a number of top GOP operatives and donors insisted it’s not about Cruz’s style or his positions. It’s his disingenuousness—and inability to produce results. “He knows his tactics are bound to fail, but pursues them to debase his Republican colleagues under false pretenses and endear himself to the base as the only authentic conservative,” said the expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he runs an organization that does not endorse candidates. But the effort doesn’t result in smaller government or the end of Obamacare—all it achieves is drawing attention to Cruz. “He is incapable of delivering anything but theater,” the expert added.

9) A Pennsylvania judge was sentencing teenagers to jail in a money-making scheme.  Seriously.  Now that he’s been caught, that judge should never leave prison again.  I’d let out several drug dealers to make room for him.

10) How Jimmy Carter made the Iowa Caucuses what they are today.

11) If only we could regulate guns for safety like we regulate cars for safety.  The absolute worst part is that when people try to make safe guns, they are little ostracized by the gun nuts.

 

Sixteen years ago, after Bill Clinton’s administration announced a partnershipwith gunmaker Smith & Wesson to improve firearm safety, the National Rifle Association led a boycott of the company. Smith & Wesson had agreed to a number of safety requirements, including making trigger-locks standard and adding a hidden set of serial numbers to new handguns to make it harder for anyone to scratch off identifying marks. Other gun manufacturers blasted the company as a sellout. (Part of why Smith & Wesson agreed to the deal in the first place was because the federal government agreed to drop a number of lawsuits against the company in exchange for its cooperation. This was, of course, before Congress agreed to give all gunmakers protection from various litigation.)

The backlash nearly ruined Smith & Wesson, the nation’s oldest manufacturer of handguns. And before long, it had retreated from key parts of the deal. One aspect of the agreement that never came to pass: a requirement that gunmakers move forward with developing authorized-user technology—the same kind of technology that President Barack Obama pushed for earlier this month, and that McNamara and others are trying to build.

12) Love this project that is provides data on how common particular books are across millions of college syllabi.

13) How the Koch brothers are using their money to try and influence students.

14) Loved this piece on the evolution of movie special effects in movies and how “practical” effects are all now the rage:

The rebooters would tell you those old feelings can’t be summoned with new tools. Trevorrow explained to Wired UK that his animatronic dinosaur “drew a beautiful performance out of the actors—we couldn’t have done it with a computer.” (The apatosaurus had been mortally wounded by a rampaging C.G.I. dino—a perfect metaphor for the state of the movies.) As the producer Patrick Crowley put it, “Colin said we needed to have a working animatronic in this movie because that’s how this series of movies was built.”

That’s the rub. We’ve reached a point where directors and audiences no longer derive authenticity from what looks “real” but from what looked real in seventies, eighties, and nineties blockbusters. And real is an awfully flexible word. George Miller, the director of “Fury Road,” was hailed for sending a hundred and fifty vehicles clattering through the Namibian desert—just like the old days! But as Andrew Jackson, the movie’s visual-effects supervisor, toldfxguide, “I’ve been joking recently about how the film has been promoted as being a live action stunt-driven film.… The reality is that there’s 2,000 VFX shots in the film”—out of about twenty-four hundred shots total.

15) So, this is a few years old, but new to me.  Jesse Eisenberg and Marv Albert performing “Marv Albert is my therapist.”  A slam dunk.

 

16) The FEC does not properly regulate campaign finance because Republicans don’t want it to.

17) Yes, the system is set up to make it too easy for college students to go way too far into debt, but it still doesn’t seem right to blame the system to think it is a remotely reasonable idea to go $240,000 in debt for degrees in music performance and bioethics.

18) Young people are getting drivers licenses at much lower rates these days.  My 16 year old doesn’t even want to get one.  I made him go get a Learner’s Permit yesterday, in fact.

19) I actually totally agree with Radley Balko that we should not have mandatory seat belt laws as a primary offense (I still think it is a fine idea as a secondary offense):

But there’s another argument against seat-belt laws that’s much more pertinent to the policing issues now in the news: Seat-belt laws create an entirely new class of police-citizen interactions. They’re another excuse for pretext stops. Moreover, unless there’s clear dash-camera footage, whether you were wearing a seat belt at the time the police officer spotted you is basically your word against the officer’s. It’s another opportunity for police to look for probable cause for a search, or for behavior that could justify a forfeiture of your cash, your car or anything inside of it. And as we’ve seen inSouth Carolina, Indiana, California and elsewhere, they create more interactions that could potentially lead to escalation, violence and even death. (Note that the article in the last link is from Florida.) The U.S. Supreme Court has even ruled that police can arrest you, handcuff you and jail you even if your only crime was to fail to buckle your seat belt. In 2012, the court ruled that you can be strip-searched, too

Our highways have gotten remarkably safer over the past 30 or so years. Fatalities have dropped dramatically. Even the most ardent libertarian can’t help but admit that federal efforts had something to do with it, though I tend to think public education and PR safety campaigns have been more effective than more punitive policies. But we should also be cognizant of unintended consequences, especially with laws that are more about protecting people from themselves than from other people. If a seat-belt violation causes a low-income man to be pulled over, searched, fined and fined again for nonpayment, then results in a suspended license, and then arrest and incarceration for driving on a suspended license, the state is no longer protecting him — it’s ruining him.

20) Important read from Nate Silver arguing that the Republican Party is failing.

21) I’m reading a fabulous book about the war on drugs.  More on that later.  For now, familiarize yourself with Rat Park, if you have not before.  And even if you know Rat Park, this comic version is pretty awesome.  Seriously.

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