Addiction – Exploring the Evidence

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Addiction – Exploring the Evidence

An Example:

A significant contribution to the history and development of the concept of addiction, was made by Avram Goldstein (1919 – 2012). As a leading professor of pharmacology and a noted expert of ‘addiction’ he stated, based on decades of animal studies, “If a monkey is provided with a lever, that he can press to self–inject heroin, he establishes a regular pattern of heroin use – a true addiction – that takes priority over the normal activities of life….. Since this behaviour is seen in several other animal life….. Since this behaviour is seen in several other animal species (primarily rats), I have to infer that if heroin were available to everyone, and there were no social pressure of any kind to discourage heroin use, a very large number of people would become heroin addicts” [Goldstein, Avram, “Heroin maintenance: A medical view. A conversation between a physician and a politician.” Journal of Drug Issues. 9. 341 – 347. 1979]. Goldstein established the Pharmacology Department at Stanford University School of Medicine, one of the most influential educational and research establishments in the United States. He was awarded the prestigious Franklin Medal for his contribution to science, and he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. This non-profit organisation established in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln was created to provide independent advice to the nation regarding science and technology. This organisation was obliged to provide advice to any government department if requested. With such credentials it would be difficult to challenge such an esteemed scientist regarding his ‘scientific’ view on ‘addiction’.

In 1997 he reinforced his position when he wrote: “Every addictive drug used by people is also self-administered by rats and monkeys. If we arrange matters so that when an animal presses a lever, it gets a shot of heroin into a vein, that animal will press the lever repeatedly, to the exclusion of other activities (food, sex, etc.); it will become a heroin addict……”

The Rat Experiment

The rat experiment involved a rat that was administered heroin, and was trained to press a button that administered heroin to the rat through a small needle placed directly into the nuclues accumbens. It was observed that the rat kept pressing the bar to get more heroin because the drug makes the rat feel good. The heroin is positively reinforcing and serves as a reward. In many of these types of experiments the rat may use until they die. This type of ‘scientific’ experiment was seen as evidence that supported the concept of ‘addiction’. Unfortunately many practitioners, theorist, policy makers, strategists and services have accepted the concept of ‘addiction’ without questioning it, and often validating it without questioning the ‘evidence’ that supports it. In fact, many of these ‘animal tests’ have been discredited some time ago. For example, the work of Bruce K. Alexander, a psychologist and professor in Vancouver who researched the ‘Psychology of Addiction’, examined the ‘animal test’ and raised various questions and concerns. He realized that an otherwise empty cage with a lever in it that administered heroin, and nothing else to choose, was not a robust scientific environment from which to draw factual conclusions. In response, he designed an alternative investigation into behavior now widely known as the ‘rat park’ experiments. This involved creating an environment for rats that was rich in physical resources, a veritable rat paradise. He created a number of parks with a variety of functions. The outcome of the experiments was that unlike many of the rats and monkeys in Goldstein’s experiments who ultimately overdosed and died, those in Professor Alexander’s experiments showed little or no interest in the heroin, because their environment was a stimulating, nurturing and nourishing and met their needs. Professor Alexander’s research was initially attacked by predominant theorists however, there is now a new interest in his work as more of us question the concept of ‘addiction’ as a life long issue. Professor Alexander presented a paper to the Canadian Parliament stating: “Most Canadians believe that certain drugs cause catastrophic addictions in people who use them. This conventional belief is reflected in such familiarphrases as “crack cocaine is instantly addictive” or “heroin is so good, don’t even try it once”. It is also implied in the professional literature that routinely describes certain drugs as “addictive”, “dependency producing”, or “habit forming”. The belief that drugs can induce addiction has shaped drug policy for more than a century. However, the only actual evidence for the belief in druginduced addiction comes 1) from the testimonials of some addicted people who believe that exposure to a drug caused them to “lose control” and 2) from some highly technical research on laboratory animals. These bits of evidence have been embellished in the news media to the point where the belief in drug-induced addiction has acquired the status of an obvious truth that requires no further testing. But the widespread acceptance of this belief is a better demonstration of the power of repetition than of the influence of empirical research, because the great bulk of empirical evidence runs against it. Belief in drug-induced addiction may have deep cultural roots as well, since it is a pharmacological version of the belief in “demon possession” that has entranced western culture for centuries [The Myth of Drug-Induced Addiction : Bruce K. Alexander, Department of Psychology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C., V5A 1S6]

The Resonance Factor approach explores the substance users relationship with their drug or drugs of choice.

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