Neuroscientist debunks common addiction myths in TED talk

Neuroscientist Carl Hart recently spoke out about the myths that surround addiction and substance abuse in a TED talk. He stated that with these myths come misconceptions and possibly poor drug policies, Vox stated.

Hart noted that he developed a passion for neuroscience after witnessing the harm that drug addiction caused on his Miami neighborhood. However, once he began investigating drug addiction, he quickly learned that his beliefs were misconstrued.

Those who abuse are not always addicted

He first discovered that 80 to 90 percent of people who choose to use drugs do not develop an addiction. To prove his point, Hart noted three former presidents who all used drugs in their youth.

“Their drug use did not result in an inevitable downward spiral leading to debauchery and addiction,” Hart said. “And the experience of these men is the rule, not the exception.”

Many current beliefs that surround addiction come from studies conducted during the 1960s and 1970s. In many of these experiments, mice were placed in a cage and given a lever they could press to release the drug. Many of the mice would pull the lever until their inevitable overdose.

No other choice

In each experiment, none of the mice were given an alternative. In other studies, mice were given the option of a mate or a sweet treat instead of the drug. In those experiments, the mice would choose the alternative to the drug and fewer mice would die of overdoses.

Hart used these experiments as a reference for human participants. He tested his theories in 2000 and 2012. All of the participants were addicted to meth or crack. They were given the option of a small amount of money or their drug of choice. When the money option was $5, the participants chose the money about half the time. However, when the researchers offered them $20, they chose the money 80 percent of the time.

Hart noted that his findings do not reduce the crime rates, poverty and drug overdoses that surround substance abuse and addiction. Yet his findings also indicate that some of these beliefs may be more complex than they seem.

Drugs and crime have a strong correlation, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Many people who possess, sell or manufacture the drugs often have an abuse problem themselves. Drugs such as marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine and heroin all are associated with high addiction rates that can change a user’s behavior and influence violence and other criminal acts.

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