The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘addiction’

The Situation of Poor Education

Posted by Adam Benforado on June 3, 2010

What is the cause of the educational disaster in central Africa?

Nicholas D. Kristof had an interesting take in his N.Y. Times column, Moonshine or the Kids?, published last week.

According to Kristof, “[I]f the poorest families spent as much money educating their children as they do on wine, cigarettes and prostitutes, their children’s prospects would be transformed. Much suffering is caused not only by low incomes, but also by shortsighted private spending decisions by heads of households.”

In the article, Kristof profiles a Congolese family, the Obamzas (yes, you read that right).  The family is behind on its $6-a-month rent and cannot afford to send the three Obamza children to school at a cost of $7.50 a month.  The Obamzas do, however, spend $10 a month on cellphone usage and Mr. Obamza spends $12-a-month drinking at the village bar.

Kristof’s point is well taken—many poor families around the world spend more on alcohol, tobacco, and other “non-essential” goods than they do on educating their children.  However, he does not go far enough in searching for the roots of the problem.

Kristof does offer some situationally sensitive solutions: encouraging aid groups and U.N agencies to help women to take “more control over purse strings” and developing microsavings programs that can support a savings culture.  Yet, he ultimately seems to place blame on parents like Mr. Obamza.  Indeed, the column comes off as being about “personal responsibility” and making wise choices.

This seems particularly shortsighted given the main vices that Kristof mentions: cigarettes, alcohol, and cell phones.  These are not goods that people freely “choose” to consume.  The first two have been clearly established as addictive.  And all three are now actively marketed to people in the third world by various corporate interests eager to hook a new consumer base.

Ultimately, Kristof has identified something that we should all pay attention to—the dreadful state of education for the poorest people in Africa—but he’s asking the wrong questions.  He shouldn’t be asking why Mr. Obamza “prioritizes alcohol over educating his kids.”  He should be asking about Heineken’s efforts to market its beer and Altria’s efforts to market Marlboro cigarettes to young men and boys in the Congo Republic.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Inequality and the Unequal Situation of Mental and Physical Health,” “Missing the Situation Leads to Optimism Among Powerful,” “Should Addiction Be Criminalized?,” “The Addictive Situation of Fatty Food,” “Merchants of Discontent – Abstract,” “A “Healthy” Alternative or the Latest Trick?,” Market Manipulation – Assuaging Cognitive Dissonance,” “Without the Filter,” “Deep Capture – Part VII,” “Promoting Smoking through Situation,” and The Science of Addiction, The Myth of Choice.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Education, Food and Drug Law, Marketing | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Should Addiction Be Criminalized?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 2, 2010

From Big Think: Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, argues that abusers should be treated the same as anyone with a debilitating disease.

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Vodpod videos no longer available.

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Question: How should drug addicts be treated in society?

Nora Volkow: Drug addiction is a disease of the brain. It’s a disease of the brain. We don’t put people that have diseases in the jail or in prison because they actually, that’s what we decide, right? I don’t even dare myself to the concept of putting someone in jail because they have a disease. My brain doesn’t even allow me to think that way.

And yet we do that with addicted people and I’ve thought a lot, why is our society criminalizing the person that’s addicted to drugs? And I think it’s because it has been very hard for people to recognize that our behaviors and our ability to control our desires is basically the product of very complex systems in the brain that enable us to perceive these desires, to control them, to make the right choices. This is very difficult for people that have all of their faculties intact, to understand that not everybody can do it. And so I sort of easier to say, “Well, if I can do it, that person is not doing it because they are choosing to just have a good time.” And so we’ve taken that approach and I guess the other element that happens with drugs, the drive to take these drugs can be so overpowering, so, so overpowering, because it’s hard wiring of the brain, the signaling is this is something that is necessary for survival. That’s what drugs have done in a person that’s addicted. They’ve generated the message as the same intense as if you haven’t eaten. And it’s a signal, you have to eat or you’ll die, you have to drink water or you’ll die, very, very powerful signals. Very difficult to control. You haven’t eaten for one week and you have food in front of you, just try to say no to that food. It’s the same drive.

So they can, when they are in those situations, this intense drive, they can do behaviors that are criminal, they can go and steal, in order to be able to get the drug. Like someone who has not eaten for one week, if they have nothing but to steal the food, they may steal the food. So that leads to the criminal behavior that then leads the person and the system to react very negatively, you should not steal. Of course you should not steal. But people should not be hungry, people should not be in the situation that they have to steal in order to eat. That should not happen. Like a person should not be, not given treatment that is in a situation where their body’s experiencing the drug as if it were a survival need. They should be provided with treatment.

So yes, we should deal with drug addiction as a disease, like we deal with any of the other medical diseases. We should not be criminalizing it. When we criminalize a drug addict, nobody wins. Certainly you’re not going to improve the behavior of that person that is thrown into jail. When they get out of the jail, the first thing they’ll do is relapse. Unless you treat them in jail. If you treat them in jail and you maintain the treatment when they leave jail, then you’re giving them a chance. If you’re throwing them in jail and not providing any treatment or treating them in jail and then throwing them out, they will relapse.

So, and that costs an enormous amount of money, to put people in jail because they are addicted to drugs is very, very costly. It doesn’t make any sense. Your tax dollar goes into the criminal justice system, it’s much less expensive to treat. And if you treat the person, you’re giving that person a chance. And you’re giving the family of that person a chance. So it’s a win-win. You’re basically decrease your cost on criminal behavior, you decrease reincarceration and the person can go back and become an active member of society at all levels.

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To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situational Effects of Dopamine,” “The Addictive Situation of Fatty Food,” The Science of Addiction, The Myth of Choice,” Are Video Games Addictive?,” “The Situation of Gambling,” Crazy Little Thing Called Love The Situation of Punishment (and Forgiveness),” “The Situation of Punishment,” “Why We Punish,” Clarence Darrow on the Situation of Crime and Criminals,” and “Law & the Brain.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Food and Drug Law, Law, Neuroscience | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

The Addictive Situation of Fatty Food

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 30, 2010

Sarah Klein wrote an article for CNN, titled “Fatty foods may cause cocaine-like addiction,” discussing recent research co-authored by Paul J. Kenny, Ph.D., an associate professor of molecular therapeutics at the Scripps Research Institute.  Here are a few excerpts.

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In the study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, Kenny and his co-author studied three groups of lab rats for 40 days. One of the groups was fed regular rat food. A second was fed bacon, sausage, cheesecake, frosting, and other fattening, high-calorie foods–but only for one hour each day. The third group was allowed to pig out on the unhealthy foods for up to 23 hours a day.

Not surprisingly, the rats that gorged themselves on the human food quickly became obese. But their brains also changed. By monitoring implanted brain electrodes, the researchers found that the rats in the third group gradually developed a tolerance to the pleasure the food gave them and had to eat more to experience a high.

They began to eat compulsively, to the point where they continued to do so in the face of pain. When the researchers applied an electric shock to the rats’ feet in the presence of the food, the rats in the first two groups were frightened away from eating. But the obese rats were not. “Their attention was solely focused on consuming food,” says Kenny.

In previous studies, rats have exhibited similar brain changes when given unlimited access to cocaine or heroin. And rats have similarly ignored punishment to continue consuming cocaine, the researchers note.

The fact that junk food could provoke this response isn’t entirely surprising, says Dr.Gene-Jack Wang, M.D., the chair of the medical department at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, in Upton, New York.

“We make our food very similar to cocaine now,” he says.

Coca leaves have been used since ancient times, he points out, but people learned to purify or alter cocaine to deliver it more efficiently to their brains (by injecting or smoking it, for instance). This made the drug more addictive.

According to Wang, food has evolved in a similar way. “We purify our food,” he says. “Our ancestors ate whole grains, but we’re eating white bread. American Indians ate corn; we eat corn syrup.”

The ingredients in purified modern food cause people to “eat unconsciously and unnecessarily,” and will also prompt an animal to “eat like a drug abuser [uses drugs],” says Wang.

The neurotransmitter dopamine appears to be responsible for the behavior of the overeating rats, according to the study. Dopamine is involved in the brain’s pleasure (or reward) centers, and it also plays a role in reinforcing behavior. “It tells the brain something has happened and you should learn from what just happened,” says Kenny.

Overeating caused the levels of a certain dopamine receptor in the brains of the obese rats to drop, the study found. In humans, low levels of the same receptors have been associated with drug addiction and obesity, and may be genetic, Kenny says.

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To read the entire article, click here.

To read some related Situationist posts, see “The Policy Situation of Obesity,” The Situation of Snacking,” Big Calories Come in Small Packages,”The Situation of Eating – Part II,” The Situation of Eating,” “The Situation of the Dreaded ‘Freshman 15′,” “Our Situation Is What We Eat,” “Social Networks,” Common Cause: Combating the Epidemics of Obesity and Evil,” “The Situation of Fatness = Our ‘Obesogenic’ Society,” Innovative Policy: Zoning for Health,” Situational Obesity, or, Friends Don’t Let Friends Eat and Veg,” “McDonalds tastes better than McDonalds, if it’s packaged right,” “The Science of Addiction, The Myth of Choice,” The Situation of our Food – Part I,” “The Situation of Our Food – Part II,”The Situation of Our Food – Part III,” and “The Situation of our Food – Part IV.”

The American obesity paradox is explored at some length by Situationist Contributors, Adam Benforado, Jon Hanson, and David Yosifon, who devoted a sizeable article to the mistaken but dominant dispositionist attributions made regarding obesity and the actual situational sources of the epidemic. To access their article, entitled “Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America,” click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Food and Drug Law, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

The Situational Effects of Dopamine

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 1, 2010

From Big Think: Drug addiction researcher Nora Volkow walks us through the singular chemical that drives substance abuse.

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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Are Video Games Addictive?,” “The Situation of Gambling,” Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “The Science of Addiction, The Myth of Choice.”

To watch a related ABC News video, titled “New Science Offers Hope to Addicts,” click here.




Posted in Choice Myth, Neuroscience, Video | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Fame

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 29, 2009

Hall of FameCNN‘s Elizabeth Landau has written an interesting article, title “How the ‘fame motive’ makes you want to be a star.”  Here are some excerpts.

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As a large silver balloon floated its way over Colorado, millions of Americans spent hours glued to their televisions wondering if 6-year-old Falcon Heene, assumed to be inside the contraption, was alive.

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In the era of reality TV, YouTube, and social media “friends” and “followers,” it seems that everyone wants to be a star. People will perform outrageous acts on camera and revel in the attention of strangers.

But what, then, is driving this need for attention from thousands — or even millions — of spectators?

The desire to be famous comes from a basic human need to be part of a group, said Orville Gilbert Brim, psychologist and author of the new book “Look at Me! The Fame Motive From Childhood to Death,” out this month from the University of Michigan Press.

“It’s a yearning to belong somewhere that causes us to seek the fulfillment of attention and approval of strangers,” he said.

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The desire for attention may date back to the days of early humans, who lived in small groups. Those who were not approved by a group that protected all of its members would genetically disappear and die off, he said.

“You’re left with the population in which almost everybody wants acceptance and approval,” he said.

Wanting to feel special and sensation-seeking are probably top motives for trying to become famous, said [Situationist Contributor] Susan Fiske, professor of psychology at Princeton University.

Getting a lot of attention gives some people a rush of adrenaline, the “fight or flight” chemical, said James Bailey, psychologist and leadership professor at George Washington University’s School of Business. When people experience this “high,” they want to have it again and will engage in sometimes extreme or illegal behaviors to try to replicate the feeling.

This need for recognition isn’t necessarily negative, and studies have shown that everyone has it in varying degrees, although there is some cultural variation, Bailey said. It becomes problematic when the desire for fame becomes dysfunctional and all-encompassing, he said in an email.

The quest for fame may get out of hand when sudden fame — like a sudden chunk of money for lottery winners — has an “intoxicating effect,” and suddenly people can’t imagine life without fame, he said.

“It shifts one’s self-perception of who and what one is and what one deserves, and there’s little we humans won’t do to perpetuate our positive self-concepts,” he said.

Still, some surveys show that it’s a minority of the population that places fame ahead of all other priorities in life.

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A desire for fame may also come from being rejected early in life, perhaps by parents, Brim said. But the problem is that no matter what level of acceptance these people achieve, it’s never enough.

“That need remains unfulfilled and they can’t handle it, and so they turn to trying to become famous as a substitute for the satisfaction for this basic need,” he said.

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Many people whose primary motivation in life is fame are met with much disappointment because they always want more, and few can be recognized as widely as they want, he said.

“It ends up being kind of a damaged life if you seek to be famous because you can never get there, really, and you can never can get rid of it, and it spoils your days trying,” he said.

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To read the article in its entirety click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Jim Rice and the Situation of Baseball Hall of Fame Voting,” “The Situationist Overwhelmed with Visitors, Return Later if Necessary,” “Are Video Games Addictive?,” “The Science of Addiction, The Myth of Choice,”and “The Situation of Music.”

Posted in Life, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Merchants of Discontent – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 25, 2008

Tamara Piety has posted her excellent article, “‘Merchants of Discontent’: An Exploration of the Psychology of Advertising, Addiction and the Implications for Commercial Speech” (25 Seattle University Law Review 377 (2001) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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The commercial speech doctrine allows the government to regulate commercial speech so as to prevent advertising that is false or deceptive while forbidding suppression of truthful commercial information that is based on nothing more than misplaced paternalism. However, this limitation is largely illusory in the realm of traditional advertising because the processes by which advertisers convey their messages employs means such as pictures, symbols, and music, making it virtually impossible to try to test such advertising for its truth. Objections to commercial advertising or calls for stricter regulation often invoke the response that there is no harm in advertising and any regulation of it would be an imposition of elitist sensibilities, or furthermore, a slippery slope to totalitarianism. But we should not treat commercial advertising as largely harmless, argues Prof. Piety. Commercial advertising is a pervasive force which blankets our society and plays a noticeable hand in promoting harmful behavior or attitudes. Given its pervasiveness in the culture it is disturbing to note many parallels between the psychology of commercial appeals and that of addiction. Both appear to involve retreat to fantasy, escapism, a quick fix to problems, a numbing down or increased tolerance from overexposure, and the institution of a vicious cycle wherein consumption fails to really satisfy but sets up a dynamic into which satisfaction rests just out of reach with the next fix or the next purchase. Prof. Piety examines three areas in particular where values of equality or definitions of autonomy clash with First Amendment protection for advertising such as this: the advertising of addictive substances, advertising directed at children, and advertising that undermines goals respecting equality for women and suggest that the doctrine may need to be revisited in light of these issues.

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Illusions, Law, Marketing | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Gambling

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 15, 2008

hats-eyeglasses.pngYesterday’s Here and Now (on NPR) included a fascinating (15-minute) interview of journalist Martha Frankel, who has just published her funny but disturbing autobiography “Hats and Eyeglasses.” From the NPR abstract: “Though she grew up around gambling, Martha Frankel, was largely immune from its lure, until she was in her mid-forties and discovered poker. When she found out she could play the game online, what had been fun turned into an addiction.” You can listen to the interview here.

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Chris Berdik (from WBUR) has a great story “The Science of Gambling Addiction,” which you can listen to here (7.5 minutes). We’ve included a few excerpts from the story below.

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[S]cientists have only recently started exploring the gambling mind, actually looking into what happens inside the brains of people like Ed when the dice roll or when the starting gates swing open at the track.

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BERDIK: As far as our brains are concerned, when we walk into a casino all the action starts in our midbrain, in a bundle of neural pathways called the “natural reward circuit.” Whenever we experience something pleasurable, from a delicious meal to a slot machine jackpot, the neurotransmitter dopamine pulses through this circuit.

Timothy Fong, co-director of UCLA’s gambling studies program, says that for most of us, this natural reward circuit is critical for learning and motivation.

FONG: It’s a hard wired circuit that is inside our brains, that is evolutionarily important. Because if we couldn’t experience pleasure or reward, why would we ever do anything, or seek out new experiences.

BERDIK: But for some of us, the natural reward circuit is in overdrive, pumping dopamine, pedal to the floor.

FONG: A lot of pathological gamblers will tell me when they walk into a casino they start salivating, they talk about being in the zone, they talk about having this profound euphoria.

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BERDIK: The notion of a reward circuit gone haywire underlies a lot of today’s research into the biology of addiction. And the kicker is that the neurons in this circuit don’t need an actual reward to get excited. Anticipation is more than enough.

Hans Breiter, a radiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, demonstrated this a few years ago.

He scanned the brains of normal healthy people playing games of chance where a spinning wheel either won or lost them cash. It turned out that the subjects’ reward circuits lit up even before the wheel settled on a number, reacting simply to the prospect of a jackpot.

Gamblers, especially habitual ones, have long talked about the rush. Ed felt it.

ED: The sensation then was like, you know you’re on the edge. It was like skydiving.

BERDIK: As a result, a little winning, just enough to kick start those reward anticipation neurons, can make gambling fun even if at the end of the night you’re down, by a lot.

In his lab, Breiter pulls out a paper comparing the brain scan of a healthy person playing a game of chance with that of a cocaine addict from an earlier experiment in which the subjects’ brains were scanned before during and after receiving an shot of cocaine.

BREITER: In this particular image what you see is a splotch of color on top of a part of the brain. We could not differentiate between the healthy control subject, having thebrain-039-s-039-gambling-circuitry-039-identified-2.jpg expectancy of a gain, and the cocaine subject having the expectancy of a cocaine infusion.

BERDIK: Breiter’s research shows that in addition to an overactive reward circuit, the brains of people with gambling addiction are different in another way.

When people viewed a spinning wheel with mostly negative numbers, in other words, when they faced a potential loss. The natural reward circuit was much less active, but some parts of the brain were more active, including the orbit frontal cortex, the part of our brain that helps us control our impulses, evaluate risk, and make decisions like when to fold a hand in poker. It’s why the orbit frontal cortex is sometimes called “the brakes of the brain.”

This summer, Dr. Fong of UCLA published research in which he compared the brain functions of compulsive gamblers and methamphetamine addicts. He found that both groups display similar impairments to the part of the brain where the orbit frontal cortex resides. In other words, says Fong, for both compulsive gamblers and meth addicts, the brakes are gone.

FONG: The fascinating question is how did these brain changes happen? Were people born this way, or is it possible that just by the act of gambling itself, that somehow people are able to modify their brain functioning and then all the sudden create this condition of pathological gambling.

BERDIK: So while experts say about five percent of the population is at risk for compulsive gambling, how much of that risk is influenced by factors like the proliferation of online gambling or, say, having a glitzy new casino right down the road? Again, Dr. Fong.

FONG: My personal belief is there’s probably a combination here. Where people are probably born with vulnerability, or a biological susceptibility to develop gambling addiction, but unless they are exposed to gambling at an early age, they’re probably not going to develop this problem.

BERDIK: Addiction researchers are conducting clinical trials on drugs to help treat problem gamblers, but no matter what scientists discover those who work with compulsive gamblers say that breaking the habit will always take more than a pill. It often takes major lifestyle changes.

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Below we’ve the initial portions of a news article from an Atlantic City news channel, “Compulsive Gambler Files $20M Suit Against Casinos.”

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lawyer-sues-casino.jpgShe was an ambitious lawyer and TV commentator who starting going to Atlantic City casinos to relax, and soon was getting high-roller treatment that included limousines whisking her to the resort.

Arelia Margarita Taveras says she was even allowed to bring her dog, Sasha, to the blackjack tables, sitting in her purse.

But her gambling spun out of control: She said she would go days at a time at the tables, not eating or sleeping, brushing her teeth with disposable wipes so she didn’t have to leave.She says her losses totaled nearly $1 million.Now she’s chasing the longest of long shots: a $20 million racketeering lawsuit in federal court against six Atlantic City casinos and one in Las Vegas, claiming they had a duty to notice her compulsive gambling problem and cut her off.”They knew I was going for days without eating or sleeping,” Taveras said. “I would pass out at the tables. They had a duty of care to me. Nobody in their right mind would gamble for four or five straight days without sleeping.”Experts say her case will be difficult to prove, but it provides an unusually detailed window into the life of a problem gambler.

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To read the rest of the article, click here. To watch an ABC video about the story, click here. To read some related Situationist posts, go to “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “The Science of Addiction, The Myth of Choice.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Life | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

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