RE: Addiction

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sat 18 Jan 2003 - 01:04:53 GMT

  • Next message: Grant Callaghan: "RE: Addiction"

    At 11:05 AM 17/01/03 -0800, you wrote:
    >I know it's a kinda late reply, but hey better late than never, right?
    > > I think most addictive drugs do confer
    > >some benefit that balances the destructive nature of the
    > habit. Alcohol, in
    > >a cold climate, makes one feel warmer and able to survive the cold.
    >This is not true, in fact it's quite the contrary:
    > > Heroin
    > >eases pain.
    >This is only superficially and initially true. Heroin simulates the
    >working of endorphin, the body's natural pain-killer. Once heroin intake
    >becomes frequent enough the body reacts by diminishing or ceasing the
    >production and release of endorphins since the function of killing pain
    >has been fully assumed by heroin.

    I am not sure of this, but I think I read somewhere that the receptors or the second messenger pathways inside the cell become less sensitive as well.

    >Failure to take heroin then leads to immediate sensation of physical pain
    >which are normally suppressed by endorphins (the user goes `cold turkey').
    >Heroin intake has now become habitual. A further downside of heroin
    >addiction is not it's toxicity, which is admittedly relatively low, but
    >it's effect of causing the user to neglect it's own welfare. You don't
    >feel hungry or pain anymore once you're high. Of course, these effects
    >wear off as the habit progresses leading to a rather permanent sensation
    >of feeling miserable as experienced by the habitual user.

    In between fixes that's the case, but what motivates people to use it is the highly rewarding short term rush just after shooting it.

    >Ergo, it's not really inviting to get ourselves a nice fix of heroin is it?

    At the intellectual level no. But drugs hold an amazingly strong attraction for a lot of people.

    > >Pot relaxes a person without unduly getting in the way of
    > >working.
    >On the upside, pot is cool and relaxing... on the downside it can make you
    >paranoid. I have tons of friends in Holland who quit taken pot for that reason.

    Pot has a wide range of effects. Someone really should do some thinking about brain circuits involved in paranoia. (Sometimes they *are* out to get you!

    > >Opium used to be used to stop stomach convulsions that accompanied
    > >some forms of diarrhea. In addition, each of these substances gives the
    > >user a temporary feeling of euphoria.
    >Agreed, smoking opium like chewing coca-leaves are benign relative to the
    >heavier kinds of dope.

    Smoking opium is not much better than shooting it because it is absorbed rapidly. Eating it in small amounts does slow down the digestive system. Chewing coca-leaves is a relatively slow method as is snorting
    (not smoking) the free base.

    > >So the pain of addiction is balanced with other virtues that offset the
    > >shortcomings.
    >Yeah.... well... (cynical)
    > >On top of that, the addiction usually doesn't
    > >interfere with procreation, and therefore is not affected by the problem of
    > >stopping a person from reproducing.
    >I'm not saying that junks or alcoholics are infertile or cannot have
    >children in any other way. I'm thinking in terms of fitness and
    >statistics. If history showed that childbirth-rates are lower among junks
    >and infant-death rates are higher among junks and alcoholics a selective
    >pressure would have been built up favoring sober parents. Hence the genes
    >causing addiction probably would have been eliminated from the gene-pool
    >(unless the process of elimination is still happening right now). However,
    >such genes have not disappeared,
    >which is consistent with the idea that addiction is not to be found
    >exclusively among junks and alcoholics but also among the `normal'
    >population. And then we have the issue of as to what extent addiction
    >actually is cultural instead of genetic. If it is cultural to great enough
    >extent, junk-behavior can be maintained also by cultural transmission. A
    >complicated matter in other words. Anybody have a clue?

    Actually the tendency to become addicted to opium has been almost breed out of the population in Turkey. The Turks have been growing the stuff for 5,000 years (and they probably started with a population like most of the rest of the world where 5-10% of the population can be addicted. They have almost as hard a time understanding why other populations have a problem with it as Europeans have understanding natives being destroyed by alcohol.

    The use (and abuse) of alcohol goes back perhaps 8,000 years in people who were framing around the Mediterranean and close to 5,000 years in much of the rest of Europe. We came by our relative resistance to alcohol the hard way, 5 millennia of quiet deaths and lower reproduction for those who were too attracted to alcohol.

    I can't find the study (it might not be on the web) but years ago I was talking about this and someone mentioned that the Navajo population went from 95% who could not control alcohol use if they had it to 70% in three generations. How much of this was a cultural adaption and how much was genetic I cannot say, but I do know that alcohol was *the* major cause of death for much of that time--and it is still a major cause.

    Addiction clearly has cultural aspects as well as physical ones because the genetics of the population does not change as fast as we see epidemic use rise and fall.

    The extreme social reaction to drugs (itself a meme) is a bit of a mystery. I speculate that the strong reaction to drugs may be due to drugs taking the place of social approval rewards.

    Keith Henson

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