Saturday, 9 August 2008

Heroin is not addictive

Not very addictive anyway, let's not go overboard with bold claims. We were taught this in undergrad Psychology decades ago. But the myth of quick and dreadful addiction persists in popular culture. Theodore Dalrymple, author of Romancing Opiates: Pharmacological Lies and the Addiction Bureaucracy, explains that we ought to look further for reasons why people continue to use heroin:

WORLD: What's the key evidence that heroin addiction is a spiritual or moral condition?

DALRYMPLE: There is lots of evidence. First, there are historical examples of thousands and indeed millions of opiate addicts giving up their addiction because of motivation to do so. Mao Tse Tung took a very dim view of opium addicts and threatened in the end to shoot them. When Mao threatened to shoot you, you took it seriously. Millions of people gave it up. It would not have made sense for Mao to say to people with rheumatoid arthritis, "I will shoot you if your joints don't become normal." It did make sense, even if it was wrong, to threaten to shoot addicts. There is therefore a conceptual difference between the two conditions.

You need to go to the post on Justin Taylor's website to get to the article. I left a comment. Hopefully the evil technology beasties will leave it alone this time! ;-)


Michael K said...

the word 'quack' springs to mind...but I suppose if its on the internet and a Sydney Uni Psych lecturer said so it must be true;-)

Gordon Cheng said...

Dude, if it had been a Sydney Uni lecturer the credibility of the claim would have been plunged into deepest darkness.

But it was a UNSW lecturer, so that's OK!


The Pook said...

Just because it is also a psychological addiction doesn't mean it isn't a physical addiction. I think it's more complex than that. I do agree that it shouldn't be used in the sense of "I can't do anything else, I'm addicted." But there is surely too much evidence that the withdrawal symptoms when someone comes off it are real, not just psychological or even psychosomatic, but physical. Sure, if Mao threatens to shoot you, you are likely to choose life over suffering withdrawal, but that proves nothing one way or another about whether it is a physical addiction.