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Drug Addiction: Chemical Or Social Disorder

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Addiction is the fact or condition of being addicted to particular substance or activity. The question then is where does addiction fall as a disease – or rather mental health condition – ‘a disorder that affects your mood, thinking and behaviour. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviours. ’ Sub-divided into chemical or social, I define chemical disease ‘the inevitable interactions of substances as studied in chemistry’ or social disease ‘a resultant condition due to a lac or excess of different social factors, such as stress, love or community. ’

Like all things in the world, very few conditions fall into concrete answers. Due to the subjectivity and uniqueness of every individual, it is very difficult to concretely categorise a solution. However, my aim is to decide which variable best represents the state and representation of addiction.

To begin, I would like to address real world examples of harmless but addictive habits. In marketing, people don’t buy the product for the sake of the product but of the result, for example buying dog biscuits is not for the taste but for true love from your dog. People don’t gamble for the sake of risk, but the pleasure of winning and from there they are at risk of having to win and then needing to win, a set of events that sounds very familiar to that of a craving.

One would think that we, the public, are in control of our own actions and purchases. Yet the ability of companies and marketers to cause a consumer to need their product, is a stroke of genius. If a marketer claimed to have the ability to ensure your customers to be ‘hook’ to your product, how could you say no. This is one of the most popular examples of addiction. Furthering the habit loop concept Charles Duhigg discusses, he many clever examples.

In the mid 1990’s one of the world’s largest companies, Procter & Gamble, began a secret project to create a new product that could eradicate bad smells. A mother’s dream would have true, a product that every house hold would undoubtedly need. This is the answer to any entrepreneurs ideal, create a whole new and unique market. It would be a guaranteed success. P&G spent millions developing a colourless, cheap-to-manufacture liquid that could be sprayed on a smoky house, stinky couch or even a dogs bed and make it odourless. In order to make the product the company formed a team that even included former Wall Street mathematician Drake Stimson, a habit specialist. The first ad they created showed a woman complaining about the smoking section of a restaurant. When she eats there she says her jacket smells of smoke, so a friend recommends the product to eliminate the odour. The cue is clear, the disgusting smell of cigarette smoke. The rewards, odour eliminated from her clothes. Another ad with the same solution about a smelly dog who sits on the couch was also created. Both ads were put into heavy rotation and the marketers sat back, anticipating how to spend their fortune they were going to make with this product. A week passed. Then two. Then a month. Even two months. Sales started small and got smaller. Their product, ‘Febreze’, was a dud. The panicked marketing team began vast amounts of research into why the product was not selling. After reviewing dozens of smelly homes they found the reason ‘Febreze’ was not selling was that people could not detect most of the bad smells in their homes. The product’s cue- the bad smells that were supposed to trigger daily use- were hidden from the people who needed it the most. Therefore, the reward for an odourless home become meaningless.

After reviewing videotapes of ‘Febreze’ trial users, they found that cleaning has its own habit loop and already exists. In one example, a woman saw a dirty room (cue), started sweeping and tidying (routine), then examined the room and smiled when she was finished (reward). The marketers then decided to position ‘Febreze’ as something that came at the end of the cleaning ritual, the reward. Finally, ‘Febreze’ created new ads showing open windows, guts of fresh air and more perfume was added to the formula. The commercials showed people finishing their cleaning routine using ‘Febreze’ to reward themselves by having a nice looking room that smells nice too. Within two months sales doubled. A year later the product brought in $230 million. Since then, you can see for yourself first-hand how popular it is. You rarely see a home without a ‘Febreze’ bottle and today it is one of the top-selling products in the world. This use of habits goes to show the extent of harmless addictive qualities. The problems arise when these social norms of routine buying become harmful. When someone struggles through a day of work and rewards themselves with a refreshing bottle of Coca-Cola. Or having a morning espresso coffee to make it out of the house awake in the mornings. It is true, a little extra caffeine in your diet should not reduce your daily efficacy to none or shorten your life span by decades, but when these rewards are the only solution, people can get in to brutal spirals of decline. This is the addiction of substances, alcohol and drugs a typical stereotype of addiction. On an anatomical level, the “wanting” part of the brain, called the striatum, underlies different variations of desire (impulsivity, drive, compulsivity, craving) – and the striatum is very large. While pleasure itself (the endpoint) occupies a relatively small part of the brain. Addiction relies on the “wanting” system, which means it has got a lot of brain matter at its disposal.

Using the habit loop idea from Charles Duhigg (2013), any change in the ‘cue’ can affect the whole habit loop all together. Relating back to the soldiers in Vietnam, on return home to their family’s and loved ones, the change in environment no longer caused a need for any relief and astonishingly, only 5% of the men who returned home after becoming addicted in Vietnam relapsed within a year. Just 12% relapsed, even briefly, within three years. 95% just stopped. This study caused an issue in theory of experiencing a chemical hook. It also helped in the proposal of addiction as a brain disease and theory of an individual’s biology being subject to the persons addiction vulnerability and a product of their environment and its interplay with genetics. To prevent this drugs were classified illegal, but by classifying drugs as illegal based on their addictiveness, begs me to question the views on caffeine, alcohol and especially nicotine. Addiction, as a disease or hook, does not cause direct harm to an addict and as philosopher John Stuart Mill famously put it, the sole legitimate reason for interfering with a person’s liberty is when he risks harming others. There is countless scientific proof for medical and beneficial uses of said substances. Such as, MDMA for patients with depression or PTSD, and medical marijuana for patients in pain for example arthritis.

A brief history of the illegalisation of some class A drugs shave shown that initially Black Americans were stigmatised on account of heroin use in the 1950s. In the 1960s hippies and psychedelics were targeted because they opposed the Vietnam War. In the 1970s it was again inner-city black Americans who used crack cocaine, so much so that the penalties for crack possession were 100 times higher than those for powder cocaine, despite almost equivalent pharmacology. Even today, after testing effects of LSD on the brain, it is evident that it not harmful if handled properly. In fact, further images showed that other brain regions that usually form a network became more separated in a change that accompanied users’ feelings of oneness with the world, a loss of personal identity called “ego dissolution”. Potentially another treatment yet shut down from the users who campaigned for peace in the 1970’s, the opposite to aggression and potential harm. I am not accusing the governments of the world of corruption but somewhere along the line they must have been misled.

Former Brazilian President, Fernando Henrique Cardoso points out that a zero-tolerance approach to a crime like taking drugs must always fail, in the same way as a zero-tolerance approach to alcohol, prostitution or drugs in sport will always fail. Paradoxically, the worst thing you could do to the drug lords in Rio is not to wage a war on them, but to decriminalise cocaine and marijuana. They would be out of business in one day. Supplies could be monitored, controlled and regulated, the harm to users and third parties significantly reduced, it is simply a business just like one of the largest businesses in the world, the alcohol industry. This argument is heard of so often by experts, yet politicians have ignored the advice because voters do not want drug laws to be loosened. The moral debate on drugs is hidden from the world and it never seems to be brought to the people, the voters.

In John Davies text ‘The Myth of Addiction’ he explains who most research into addiction is a search for why people do anything. Yet this has been a question for as long as humans have existed. The answers have been discussed for centuries and there is simply no answer. How can you try to cure drug taking, something where there is no need for a cure when it is simply doing. But if there are reasons for supposing that in a given case it is resulting in social, economic or physical problems for the individual, then yes it is advisable to rethink on what you are simply doing. Without the common answer of compelled use, it is theorised that genetics also takes a role in the effect to succumbing to dependence.

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