Is drug addiction a myth? American psychologist Bruce K. Alexander thought so, hypothesizing that continued drug use was primarily due to unhapiness, rather than a physical addiction. I would agree, but would argue that there’s more to it.
Happiness is a relative term, subject to the state of your surroundings and more importantly how you perceive your surroundings. Everyone’s brain being wired up differently, there’s no magic equation for happiness; I don’t think there ever has been, nor do I think that we’ll ever discover one.
Having gone through the required DARE program in elementary school, I — along with all of my classmates — was “[given] the skills [needed] to avoid involvement in drugs, gangs, and violence.” Yet many from those classes experimented heavily with drugs throughout high school, moreso in college. Why?
I think the DARE program tries too hard, authoritative police officers flooding kids at a very early age with a lot information. Getting to them early is, in part the point, but ironic; since I was subjected to the DARE program the age of kids I observe involved with drugs is dropping. When I was in middle school, I knew two kids my age who smoked cigarettes. Two years later, middle school kids were being caught tripping on acid while at school. Each year, younger and younger kids were experimenting with harder and harder drugs. While this isn’t steadfast proof, it is representative of the trends I saw growing up in suburban Maryland.
Everyone is quick to blame the media and the movie industry for glamorizing drug use and desensitizing us to the dangerous and sometimes deadly side effects. Some people blame the parents for their lack of ability to keep an eye on their kids. No one places the blame where it belongs: on the individual involved.
Of all the people I know who experimented with drugs in high school, were regular users in college and afterwards, most have cut back signifigantly if not completely from their previous ways. Now there are the select handful that just can’t seem to shake it, the habitual twenty-somethings; Dr. Alexander would argue that its all in their head, where I’d argue that they need to grow up. Growing up is stressful, painful, and not always a pleasant time. There’s always the void of what to do with our lives, whether we’ll be successful, and what to do with the next few hours. Contrary to the story of addiction that our generation has been fed, I think that as we mature and take on more responsibilities our need to fill the void with substances lessens.
But some drugs are physically addictive, you say. Dr. Alexander’s Rat Park experiment is a fascinating example of how this simply isn’t true. His experiment differed from the caged rat with a morphine trigger to pull at his leisure, an experiment that we’ve heard about. The rat cage was a spacious 200 square feet, where rats could choose to drink plain water or morphine-laced water. Even those who had been forced to drink the drugged water weaned themselves off of it in short order, the only different being the environment in which they were placed.
Now there is a lot of conflicting studies and data out there, so I’m not saying that his experiment is the end-all proof that people are seeking… but that it’s worth looking at. Also worth looking at is his excellent paper, The Myth of Drug-Induced Addiction. His paper touches briefly on public policy issues, mainly that the science backing the policies may in fact contribute to the failure of those policies.