Saturday, November 19, 2011

Dependence versus addiction

"Oh, I had so much trouble stopping that medication. I was ADDICTED to it!" How many times have you heard this? It's bull$#!+. What they're describing is DEPENDENCE, which is a very different animal. I will suffer withdrawal symptoms if I stop eating. Does that mean I'm addicted to food? No. Absolutely not. There are blood pressure medications that can't be stopped suddenly because of withdrawal symptoms. That's not addiction. And yet, there is this idea out there that just because someone has trouble coming off of a medication that's a sign of addiction. That's propaganda and a dangerous lie.

A similar dangerous misconception is the idea that increased tolerance is a sign of addiction. That's malarkey too. Bacteria become drug resistant. People with seizures will become drug tolerant and need more of their medication. Many people with depression and anxiety will become tolerant to their SSRIs and have to increase dosage or switch medications or add other medications into the mix. But we don't say that those people have become addicted to their antidepressant. Epileptics aren't addicted to their anti-seizure meds. We don't say that the bacteria is addicted to antibiotics. That's just silly.

Addiction has a key feature that separates it from dependence. That is, there are negative consequences from taking the substance, but the addict will take the substance anyway. That's like my German Shepard who can't figure out not to stick his nose in the yellow jacket nest because he'll get stung. Another example would be someone who keeps sticking their hand on a hot stove even though they get burned. It's the addict who says, "I always end up in jail when I drink. Next round is on me!" It's insanity.

The problem with painting dependence as addiction is that it makes the problem seem a whole lot bigger than what it actually is. This is great for getting people to rally to your cause, but it's a bit like going to war because the enemy "might" have weapons of mass destruction. Oh, wait. We did that, didn't we?

And that's the point of propaganda: get everyone worked up about the tiger that might be lurking in the bushes to justify the action you want to take anyway. Was Saddam Hussein committing genocide against his own people? Absolutely. He was a horrible dictator. Is addiction a problem that ruins lives? Absolutely. And it can hurt the lives of people not even taking the substance. But the truth is it is not as bad as the media and the talking heads of government would have us believe.

The truth is that half of all addicts outgrow their addiction naturally according to the DEA. The truth is addiction is a disease that can be managed like hypertension or asthma.

The truth is "the global prohibition of drugs has manifestly failed to stem the use of narcotics, [and] it has generated enormous costs and perverse outcomes. In the United States, the war on drugs is generating alarming violations of civil liberties, weakening the rule of law, and compromising law enforcement efforts. The U.S.-led drug war is also undermining legitimate foreign policy goals around the world, including the spread of liberal democracy and an effective war on terror." (CATO Institute, Ending the Global War on Drugs)

Don't believe the hype.

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