So my goal today was to post an introduction to the neuron but then I read the above article and felt it my duty as a neuroscientist that actually studies addiction to respond to the many glaring problems with this piece.
This is my response (also read it on the Huffington Post Blog directly):
This article makes many false claims that ignores the scientific basis of addiction. I’m a neuroscientist studying the neurobiological basis of drug addiction at the Rockefeller University (NY, NY) and many of the views presented in this article are, in my professional opinion, harmful to the decades of scientific progress made in understanding this devastating disease.
Addiction is a very complicated disease with genetic, environmental, and drug-specific causes and effects. The disease/medical model of addiction is not a “liberal” view but the scientific view (which has no left/right bias). This article makes no mention of the vast amount of concrete basic research that has identified real molecular changes that occur to brain as result of drug use and the subsequent effects on behavior that these molecular changes have. There is no mention of neurons, or dopamine, or neurotransmitters, or neurotransmission, or receptors, or gene expression changes, or neuroplasticity, or mesolimbic reward pathway, or many other of basic concepts in the neuroscience of addiction.
And of course, being in a harmful/stressful environment can induce or exacerbate drug-taking behavior. This has been known for years and the drug/stress interaction is a huge area of study within the addiction field. Stress induces chemical changes within the brain, and many of these chemical changes are similar to the ones that drugs cause. In fact, everything that the brain does and everything that happens to brain ultimately has a chemical basis. And yes, that means there is of course an enormous chemical basis for addiction and the effects of drugs themselves. To say anything otherwise is blatantly not true. The synergy of drug-taking and stressful situations also has a concrete molecular basis and there is an enormous body of published, peer-reviewed scientific studies that support this.
However, I do agree that 12-step programs (on the whole) are successful and that addicts should be treated with compassion and love. Treatment of addiction is just as complicated as the disease itself and multiple approaches are likely required. But to ignore the science, and claiming a political bias of the science, and cherry-picking a handful of studies that support a false overall conclusion, is inexcusably irresponsible. My newly-minted website is attempting to counter harmful information, such as this article, regarding addiction (drsimonsaysscience.org). Thank you.