Columbia professor dispels myth of insatiable drug addicts

By Scott Kaufman
Tuesday, September 17, 2013 13:50 EDT
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A new article in the New York Times by science reporter John Tierney suggests that the deprivations and delinquency associated with crack and methamphetamine abuse are due more to socioeconomic factors than the drugs themselves.

Columbia University professor Carl Hart designed an experiment in which he offered pharmaceutical-grade crack-cocaine to addicts and gauged how they responded to subsequent incentives throughout the day. The dosage would differ daily, and Hart and his fellow researchers tracked how subjects responded to offers of either more crack-cocaine or a $5 voucher for merchandise from a store.

The more crack-cocaine that subjects were given at the beginning of the day, the more likely they were to request more crack-cocaine. If the dose was fairly low, they were more likely to take the money.

“They didn’t fit the caricature of the drug addict who can’t stop once he gets a taste,” Dr. Hart told the New York Times. “When they were given an alternative to crack, they made rational economic decisions.”

When the price of the voucher was raised to $20, Hart and his colleagues found every single addict was able to delay the instant gratification of getting high and instead take the money, which they recieved at the end of the experiment.

“If you’re living in a poor neighborhood deprived of options, there’s a certain rationality to keep taking a drug that will give you some temporary pleasure,” he told the Times. “The key factor is the environment, whether you’re talking about humans or rats. The rats that keep pressing the lever for cocaine are the ones who are stressed out because they’ve been raised in solitary conditions and have no other options. But when you enrich their environment, and give them access to sweets and let them play with other rats, they stop pressing the lever.”

Other experts are less convinced by Hart’s claim that “[e]ighty to 90 percent of people are not negatively affected by drugs.”

But many, like Dr. David Nutt, the Edmond J. Safra chair in Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, London, are sympathetic to Hart’s views: “Addiction always has a social element, and this is magnified in societies with little in the way of work or other ways to find fulfillment.”

Watch a New York Times video based on its article below.

[Screen-capture via Youtube]

Scott Kaufman
Scott Kaufman
Scott Eric Kaufman is the proprietor of the AV Club's Internet Film School and, in addition to Raw Story, also writes for Lawyers, Guns & Money. He earned a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California, Irvine in 2008.
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