The Science of Addiction | Answers With Joe

Is it the drugs that get people hooked… or is it something else? The science behind addiction and how our drug laws approach it the wrong way.

Special thanks to Jac St. John at The Vegetarian Baker

and Sarah Hardy of Sensational Finds

For their help with the intro to this video.

This was shot as part of the YouTube NextUp program in August, at the YouTube space in New York. The set was constructed for a series on Great Big Story starring Philipe Cousteau:

Check out the video Jac shot in the submarine for his channel!:

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Johann Hari’s TED talk on addiction:


Rat Park Comic

Statistics from National Overdose Day

The science of addiction

Portugal’s drug policy and its results


Nuggets (a short animated film that hauntingly depicts the process of addiction)


hey liver this is brainy we got a problem here over good brain yeah we got dopamine building up to dangerous levels in the norepinephrine League the hearts going crazy right now what’s causing it you need to process this it’s not working what’s going on Lance perette Joss Iraq and Dan tests 26 all asked can you do a video on addiction wherever it is that you live no matter how nice the community I guarantee you there’s a building out there somewhere filled with people that are on drugs and I’m not talking about little drugs I’m talking about like the heaviest strongest drugs mankind has ever made it’s called a hospital the traditional view of drug addiction is that hard drugs like cocaine and heroin and crystal meth all have these sort of chemical hooks in them that can get you addicted to them in a very short amount of time the idea being that it’s the drugs that are bad and it’s a lack of self esteem or your own personal failings that get you addicted to them this view is heavily influenced by research that was done in the 50s and 60s where they took rats and put them in cages and gave them a choice of getting food or water or heroin and they chose heroin to the point that they starve themselves to death and this was used as a justification by the Nixon administration to create the war on drugs but in 1977 a professor named Bruce Alexander began to question the validity of these experiments having worked with rats in the past and knowing how social they are as animals he began to question how much of an influence the solitary confinement they were in had to do with them consuming these drugs so he and some other researchers at Simon Fraser University set up an experiment where on one side they replicated the conditions of the original experiments with the rats in the solitary confinement and then on the other side they set up what they call rat Park these rats were given room to run around and play they had plenty of nesting places the walls were painted to look like the outdoors they had toys and even more importantly other rats they adjusted for variables like taste and strength and they gave the exact same options to the rats and the cages as they did to the rats in rat Park and what they found was that conclusively the rats and the cages got addicted to the heroin far more regularly than the rats in rat Park they even took one set of rats and got them physically addicted to heroin and then let them loose in rat Park and even though they still had access to the heroin and we’re going through painful withdrawals they still had very little interest in the heroin at that point it was the isolation they sent the rats into a spiral of addiction similarly in the Vietnam War nearly 20% of US soldiers serving over there got addicted to heroin and it became a big concern that when the war was over the streets would be flooded with a bunch of junkie vets but that didn’t happen I mean sure there were some problems that persisted but for the most part when people came home to their friends and family and their social circles they didn’t have any interest in the drugs anymore why it’s almost like being separated from your friends and family and everyone you love and facing death on a daily basis makes you want to tranquilize yourself for some reason if the drugs themselves were what causes addiction then everybody who gets out of the hospital would be addicted to morphine but that doesn’t happen despite this evidence about the reality around drug addiction we still in the United States our solution for dealing with drug offenders is to put them in prison away from their family away from their friends away from everyone they love in other words the worst thing we could possibly do and just as bad maybe worse is what we do as a society to drug addicts we shun them we push them away we we scorn them when what they need more than anything is to feel connected and to feel loved in 2001 Portugal did something fairly radical they decriminalized all drugs in possession that doesn’t mean it’s legal per se but if you got caught then all you have to do is pay a fine and go to treatment in other words they treat it as a public health issue and not a criminal issue thanks in a large part to efforts like this the rate of overdose death in Portugal is almost non-existent is down to 3 in every million people that’s far below the rate of 17 per million throughout the rest of Europe and in the United States after 40 years of the war on drugs we’re down to a low low rate of 147 USA USA and nearly half of those overdoses are from totally legal prescription drugs by the way marijuana decriminalization and legalization efforts in several US states is a step in the right direction but we still got a long way to go we need to separate our ideas of addiction from the drugs themselves because the fact is people can get addicted to anything gambling shopping pornography junk food hoarding these are all real addictions that can totally ruin a person’s life it has nothing to do with drugs whatsoever all of these activities hitting the jackpot finding a great sale rubbing one out they don’t hit the reward centers of our brain and create a dopamine rush just like cocaine without a social support structure in place people turn to these activities to fill that void and the more that reward center gets triggered the stronger the neural pathways become leading them down this spiral of constantly chasing that reward to the neglect of more important things in their lives this is why group therapies like AAA to have such a high success rate because it helps people to rebuild the social structure around themselves so that they don’t have a need to go and trigger that reward system for that dopamine hit some of the more promising therapies involve traditional tribal medicines like ayahuasca or ibogaine these medicines work in different ways but they kind of hit a reset switch in the brain by binding to opioid receptors which takes away the craving for these drugs for about a six month period which gives them a little bit of wiggle room to do the cognitive behavioral therapy that you really work through the issues that cause that problem in the first place they’re also known to create a feeling of connection to others in a otherworldly spiritual consciousness so it’s easy to see why this would be effective if people turn to addictions as a way to connect with something then feeling connected to a higher power or by extension everybody in the world would be a huge weapon in that fight this is why so many 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous start with an acknowledgement of a higher power so regardless of your spiritual beliefs it’s easy to see how that could be really helpful in general I would encourage everybody to put a little extra effort into maintaining your social circles you know or just take a handful of friends and become really close with them we are the most social animals in the world and our modern lifestyles kind of take that away from us a little bit so get out there and connect your life will be a lot better for it and if you are struggling with addictions whether it’s drug related or anything else have the courage to go and speak to somebody about it just talking to somebody it makes a huge difference so really quickly that crazy intro that you saw at the beginning of this was something that I shot at the YouTube space in New York when I was up there for the next up program back in August and Jake st. John from the vegetarian Baker was the Koch snorter in there and Sarah Hardy from sensational finds was also part of my group she helped out quite a bit she just wasn’t on cam but I wanted to thank both of them for their help and I wanted to encourage you guys to go out and check their channels out because they’re really awesome people so you should go show them some love oh and that submarine set that I shot it was actually built for a series from great big story starring Philippe Cousteau which looks really cool I’ll put the link down in the description when it comes out go check that out alright thank you guys for watching if you have a question leave it down in the comments below and I might answer it in the future video if you liked it give it a thumbs up if this is your first time here please subscribe I’ll come back with stuff like this every week now you guys go out and have an eye-opening week and I’ll see you next time love you guys take care

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