Saturday, October 31, 2015

An Interesting Take on Addiction

This is a pretty stupid video that really over-simplifies what addiction is.  It also pushes a socialist agenda.

There is a video (above) being bandied about these days as describing the cure for addiction and the solution to the "war on drugs".   I watched it, and although it presents some interesting arguments, it is hardly a compelling answer to anything.

NOTE: This video keeps getting removed from YouTube for some reason.  It is one of a series of dubious click-bait videos in a series entitled "In A Nutshell by Kurzgesagt" which sounds like a British name, right?  I think the narration may be a robot and the source of this is Russian dis-information.  If you read the comments, there is an awful lot of "let's feel sorry for ourselves" nonsense, one comment by a user named "let's suffer together" even (!!).  You see where this is going - people in the richest country in the world have it so hard they have to become junkies.  His videos promote all sorts of crapola, including Homeopathy which is just junk science and fraud.  YouTube - what's not to like?

The basic premise they make is that people become addicted to drugs (or smart phones or reddit!) because they are unhappy.   In a way this is sort of like a "well, duh, anyone knows that" kind of thing, but also a "gee, isn't that over-simplifying things a bit?" kind of deal.

The "proof" of this in the video is some very poor animation comparing two studies on heroin addiction, using rats.   In the first study, rats in a cage, given a choice of water or water and heroin, will drink the heroin-laced water all day long until they die of an overdose.  The first researchers concluded that heroin is addictive.   And indeed it is, having physical withdrawal symptoms.   It is highly addictive.  And it is sort of irresponsible to imply that it is not.

In the second study, the researcher set out to prove the first one wrong (observational bias).  He believed that the environment lead to addiction - that if the rats had nicer cages and female rats to bang all day long, they would eschew heroin, and according to his study they did.   The conclusion, therefore, was if we made everyone's cage a lot nicer, no one would do drugs.

But I am not sure that is a valid conclusion.   A lot of people who do drugs come from middle-class and even upper-class backgrounds - people with very nice cages indeed!   Drug use is not just rampant among the poor, but with the middle class.  In fact, I suspect the middle class drug use rates are a lot higher than the poor, as they have more money to spend on drugs.

In fact, a real study - involving humans and not rats in cages, shows this.  While cigarette use was higher among the poor (likely due to the perceived lower social status of smoking by the middle class) alcohol and drug use rates were higher in the middle and upper classes than with the poor.  This sort of shoots the "nicer cage theory" in the ass.   People who should be the happiest in America are the ones who most often end up abusing drugs.   This negates the major thrust of their argument.

From the study cited above:
"Findings based on three indicators of family background SES [SocioEconomic Status]—income, wealth, and parental education—converged in describing unique patterns for smoking and for alcohol and marijuana use among young adults, although functional relationships across SES measures varied.  Young adults with the highest family background SES were most prone to alcohol and marijuana use."  (emphasis added)
This video also makes some pretty astounding bald-ass statements which are not really supported by the numbers. They claim that people "in hospital" given opiates for pain, will leave the hospital with no addiction problems.  The reality is, at least in the USA, that a lot of people legally given OxyContin or other opiates for pain, often end up in rehab for their addiction problem.  Ask Rush Limbaugh!

Ditto for their assertion that less than 5% of Heroin users in Vietnam came back home and just magically stopped using the drug - or had no side-effects.   In fact, it is kind of insulting that they show cartoon soldiers coming back from Vietnam and settling down with happy, happy families.  But then again, I guess they are British (at least from their accent) - or maybe Russian - and never saw what really happened over here.

(Speaking of accent, this video illustrates how, if you want to sell something to Americans, to do it with a British accent - whether it is drug videos or overpriced vacuum cleaners.   For some reason, we have a knee-jerk reaction to that accent as a voice of authority).

But the real selling point of the video is socialism.  We are told that "if only" we just were nicer to people and made them nicer cages (e.g., redistributing the wealth) then addiction and drug use would just magically disappear.  Nice try, but as the NIH article illustrates, some of the wealthiest people in this country are the ones with the biggest drug problems - not the poorest.

It also negates the other observation from the first rat experiment - that the rat with no heroin in his cage did not become addicted to it.   But sadly, we cannot seem to control the flow of drugs, such is the demand.  But if you do not have access to drugs, you will not become addicted, that is a basic axiom.

The ideas put forth in the YouTube video are classic weak thinking. Why?  Well, it hits all the hallmarks of weak thinking:
1.  Telling People Something They Want to Hear:   That socialism is not only a good idea, but a cure for society's ills such as drug addiction.  And I get to have more of someone else's money!  How convenient - for me!

2.  Externalizing:  You are not a junkie or whatnot because you like to abuse drugs, but because of  socioeconomic conditions.  If only they would make your cage nicer, you would not need to do drugs!

3.  Easy Solutions to Complex Problems:   If we can change ONE THING (give money to everyone so they are happier) it would solve a complex problem that has stymied people for decades or even centuries.

4.  Lack of Substantive Analysis:  There is no real analysis of opposing viewpoints, other than to say that anything that disagrees with them is wrong. No discussion of the real problem of chemical addiction (which is a physical, as well as emotional problem).  In a way, this is insulting to addicts, as it implies that they are just weak people for not kicking the habit.

5.  Outright Lies:  Again, the hospital example is just bullshit.   Prescription opiates are an epidemic in this country.  To say that no one ever leaves the hospital with an addiction problem is just making shit up.
And this is the sort of nonsense I would have believed back when I was doing drugs.  Convenient thinking.  My drug problem is society's fault for not providing me with a better cage to live in.

We are engaged in an interesting experiment in the USA, by legalizing marijuana.  And I think it will be interesting to see how this plays out.  Of course other drugs will still be illegal, and I suspect that the "war on drugs" won't end as a result.   Marijuana is not hard to come by, even when illegal.   Yet people choose to do Meth and Coke and Heroin - often goaded on by poor normative cues our society provides (the most popular television show in recent history was about a science teacher who turned into a meth dealer, and was the hero of the show!).   I am not sure that "better cages" will put a stop to these highly addictive and life-destroying drugs.

But like I said, it will be interesting to see how this experiment plays out.   However, I am not sure that socialism is the cure for drug addiction.

UPDATE:  Another example of these poor middle-class rats in their dingy cages, becoming addicts:

"While heroin use has climbed among all demographic groups, it has skyrocketed among whites; nearly 90 percent of those who tried heroin for the first time in the last decade were white."

So, I guess Phillip Seymour Hoffman wasn't an anomaly. And no matter how nice your cage is, addictive drugs are still addictive.

And maybe YouTube cartoons are not a good source of information about addiction.  Or homeopathy.  Or anything!