Writing in his Daily Telegraph blog about the death of Whitney Houston, Damian Thompson notes that crack cocaine addiction destroyed her career and it was unlikely that she would have been able to recover from this serious addiction.
Damian writes, “I’ve spent the last 18 months working on The Fix, a book about the spread of addiction in society. My argument is that millions of ordinary people, not just celebrities, drunks or junkies, feel the need to “fix” their moods in response to a deadly combination of accelerating work pressure and accelerating temptation. The world around us is actually changing our brain.”
Damian tells his readers about the difference between “needing” and “liking” impulses in the brain (i.e. craving a drug, and then actually experiencing it) the importance of environmental cues (i.e. triggers), and the dopamine effect. Cocaine and crack cocaine are “fiendishly” efficient at stimulating these dopamine channels, and no sooner has the user taken their first hit, they are looking for the next one.
Is addiction a disease?
Damian then goes on to draw what must be the main conclusion of his forthcoming book by saying, “I don’t believe that addiction is a “disease” in the true sense of the word”. With this point of view he is poised to be at odds with the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) who have recently published a new / updated definition of addiction that describes addiction as a chronic brain disease. Furthermore the formulation of this definition by ASAM was the result of an intensive four year process involving 80 experts actively working on it.
The chemistry of the brain
Whatever the final conclusions in his forthcoming book, it has to be said that Damian Thompson is exploring the right territory by looking at the chemistry of the addicted brain – which is more than can be said for the National Treatment Agency (NTA) or the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) whose guidelines on the treatment of alcoholism fail to recognise the implications of addiction being a brain disease. In this country addiction is swinging back around to be viewed as a social and criminal problem – almost oblivious to emerging developments in neuroscience.