From: Keith Henson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Sun 25 Jan 2004 - 20:31:28 GMT
At 09:08 AM 25/01/04 -0500, you wrote:
>I'm off for a week to attend a judicial conference on setting up special
>drug courts that focus on treatment instead of incarceration.
>My question is for the lot of you is: if drug addiction is a meme, are
>there any insights that a memetic perspective can suggest on how to limit
>it's spread? A related question: how is this complicated by the
>involuntary nature of addiction itself?
>Raymond O. Recchia, Esq.
I don't state the problem the way you do, but this is the subject of my
"Sex, Drugs and Cults" article published August of 2002. http://human-nature.com/nibbs/02/cults.html (and linked all over the net).
If you think about it, there is no way that susceptibility to drug
addiction would evolve by itself --being strung out on plant sap is hardly
conducive to reproductive success!
So, it must be a side effect (byproduct, spandrel) of something else. To
cut to the chase, the root cause is the brain reward mechanisms that have
evolved to shape behavior in social primates in ways that--in our tribal
past--led to improved reproductive success (most of the time). I.e., drug
rewards short circuit the brain's release of endorphins (and other
neurochemicals) into the brain's reward circuits.
Normal endorphin release is caused by social attention resulting from
actions such as killing an animal large enough to feed the whole
tribe. This action, attention, release-reward (AAR) mechanism serves us to
this day, motivating any extraordinary actions (like those leading to a
Nobel prize.) Any of you who have been totally buzzed after giving a
public speech know the effect first hand.
Drugs get in downstream of the attention, requiring only seeking and
injecting/smoking/ ingesting drugs to get the reward. And you are
completely right on addiction taking over the person's behavior and
becoming effectively involuntary. Same thing happens due to internal
chemicals to compulsive gamblers and people hooked on attention rewards in
Of course drug addiction is *also a meme* in that people learn drug taking
behavior from others. Even learning that drugs exist slightly increases
the risk young people will try and find they like drugs. See
http://www.ndsn.org/sepoct94/dare.html and related places where government
officials rejected their own study of the D.A.R.E. program when it was
found to be useless. (Itself an interesting "religious"
Alas, I don't have ideas of how to keep children from being exposed to the
fact drugs exist that are compatible with free speech. Maybe teaching
about the reward mechanisms would help, but by analogy, understanding
metabolism makes little difference in overeating. I don't know if teaching
about sex has a lot of effect either. (Can someone point me to a study?)
As for what could be done, getting people to withdraw from drugs is only a
small part of the solution. People *need* a certain amount of rewards and
if the don't get it from attention, it makes sense to get it some other
way. A high fraction of the drug using population does use rewarding drugs
in controlled moderation (chipping).
But any drug use is dangerous to *some* people, leading to uncontrolled
use/abuse. There are external limits to the amount of attention you can
get from dragging back large dead animals and fewer limits on the amount of
drugs you can use, not even considering the problem of building up
tolerance if you use drugs too often.
If you are going to get abusers off drugs long term, the drug reward need
to be replaced by attention-releasing-endorphin rewards from those around
them, preferably because they are doing something that gains them deserved
attention. Unfortunately rewards that were easier to get in a tribe are
much more difficult a mass media world where a very few get an overload of
attention and virtually all aspiring athletes, actors, singers, writers and
the like get none.
PS. The AAR mechanism explains the relative success of 12 step programs
(AA and the like). The actual *content* of the programs is not as important as the rewards people in them get from being at least momentarily the center of attention. ("My name is ____and I am an alcoholic.")
This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)
This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Sun 25 Jan 2004 - 20:37:37 GMT