Who Can Become an Addict?

In Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good, brain scientist and neuroscience professor at Johns Hopkins University David J. Linden, PhD, describes the physiological processes of how the human brain reacts to different types of pleasure.  He's found that the effects of both our vices and our virtues are virtually indistinguishable within the brain.

In an interview with Salon, he briefly discusses the biological causes vs. societal reactions to addiction.  A particularly striking paragraph (emphasis mine):

In spite of the oft-stated idea that "addiction is a disease" we don't treat it as such. We lock folks up for simple possession and usually fail to offer them medical treatment. The biological basis of pleasure tells us that we must be compassionate towards addicts. Given the right situation, genes, stress, life experiences, anyone -- and I do mean anyone -- can become an addict. We humans are very invested in the idea that we have absolute free will in all things, and it's very threatening to us to imagine that there are these strong subconscious forces [biology/physiology] compelling our behavior, but there are. This is scary in a deep and profound way.

I find it refreshing to see a thoroughly educated person, one whose life goal is to further human understanding of our physical selves, to slam the way our society reacts to addicts, draw attention to the fact that addiction can happen to anyone, and to point out the reason society reacts so negatively to addicts is that we have to blame the victim in order to feel more secure ourselves.  

Too many people are unaware or unwilling to understand the truth of addiction, so we treat them as criminals. Our entire society suffers as a result. 


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