Myths and misconceptions about addiction

It’s important to remember not all addictions are to drugs.

In my last column I discussed a wide assortment of illegal chemicals that are popular in the underground drug culture, thereby hoping to correct a number of misconceptions. This week I want to tackle addiction and, trust me, there are more misconceptions and flat-out nonsense about addiction than there are about the drugs themselves.

For instance, addiction doesn’t necessarily involve drugs; you don’t have to inject something into your body to be addicted to it. In recent years, it has become increasingly clear that some people are easily addicted to any damned thing, whether it be heroin, alcohol, food, gambling, Facebook, nicotine, sex, sugar, caffeine, or whatever. Some individuals are so addicted to Facebook or TV they spend nearly all their waking hours before a screen, even eating lunch and dinner there. When forced to leave their cyber-space station, they become angry or depressed and, in extreme cases, experience actual withdrawal pains like vomiting and body chills.

Contrary to what much of the public believes, there is mounting scientific evidence that indicates addiction is triggered by the DNA of the person involved; that is, the genes of a person determine how prone they are to addiction. People with addictive-prone DNA can, literally, smoke one or two cigarettes and immediately be hooked on one or two packs a day for the rest of their lives. If they try to quit, they have such severe withdrawal symptoms they simply can’t carry on unless they have another smoke. (Many addicts who are hooked on both nicotine and heroin will honestly tell you quitting either one is just as difficult as quitting the other.)

So, it’s misleading to say that heroin is addictive but weed isn’t. That distinction can’t be clearly drawn. Pot can damn well be addictive, depending on the genes of the person involved.

Now, to reverse the equation, there are individuals — admittedly, few in number — who can’t get hooked on anything, no matter how often it’s used. Indeed, there are people who have smoked a pack or two of cigarettes every day for 30 years and have abruptly quit, cold turkey, with no problems whatsoever. Similarly, there are medical records of doctors who have used morphine on a regular basis for 20 or 30 years and have simply quit without a single tremor.

Of course, most of us fall somewhere in between these two extremes. If you spend any time around people who consume booze, you’ve probably noticed the difference. Some individuals can handle alcohol well; others have a problem.

Addictive-prone personalities tend to be hooked on a wide variety of drugs at the same time. It’s not unusual to find them simultaneously hung up on cigarettes, alcohol, pot, and sugar. (Granulated sugar, by the way, is probably the most wide-spread type of addiction in America.)

Though the nature of the drug certainly plays a role, the individual’s DNA is much more important. I’m convinced most of addiction is inherited. You either have the genes or you don’t.

The difference can cause considerable social tension; no one likes being told they can’t do something other people can do. This strikes at the very heart of America’s social and legal drug problems. Some people can control their usage, others can’t.

Researchers have not yet isolated the gene or genes responsible for the difference, but they’re getting close.

I’m not sure what the solution is, but I’m certain the “war on drugs” — that is, attacking the drug cartels, growers, and manufacturers — is ridiculous. In a market worth tens-of-billions of dollars, there’ll always be entrepreneurs waiting to take over the reins.

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