ex-drug user scorned in silly article, fights back

Former drug-user (now clean and on antidepressants) responds to a poorly written and somewhat slanderous editorial.

To sum it up, a former user of heroin and cocaine (Szalavitz), who is now clean, responds to an editorial (Nehring). Nehring wonders why all the contempt for alcoholic beverages versus the alternative, which seems to be popping pills in isolation. Her argument is, in part, that at least the bar brings people together, versus the isolation of drug use via pills in a lonely bathroom stall.

I agree with Szalavitz on this one. Nehring misunderstands the term “addiction,” whose technical meaning was slaughtered in Nehring’s commentary. Nehring references and to some extent ridicules Szalavitz, who has real life experience battling addiction. Nehring critiques antidepressant use and erroneously refers to it as addictive, which it is not. Further, the purpose of antidepressants is entirely different than alcohol or many other drugs. The character assassination of Szalavitz by Nehring is disturbing indeed, as is the lack of rudimentary knowledge of psychoactive drugs.

Nehring’s lack of technical expertise aside, I get very little from her article otherwise. The premise that alcohol is demonized is flawed in itself. Drinking and driving is certainly looked down upon, but for understandable reasons. Social drinking, on the other hand, is common and not broadly criticized.

I can’t help but to put some more detail here for those interested. Antidepressants (including those in the tricyclic, SSRI, or SNRI categories) alter levels of certain neurotransmitters in our central nervous system. The way in which they work and the reason they seem to abate depression are still up for scientific inquiry. Antidepressants will impose withdrawal if they are suddenly stopped, but they are not addictive per se.

Drugs (including alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, Ritalin, etc) are addictive due to the effect on the “reward pathways.” These drugs manipulate chemicals which relate to our desire to repeat an activity and are tied to temporary feelings of pleasure. The reward pathways are stimulated when we eat a delicious meal; this is a normal and healthy effect that is evolutionarily essential for our survival (even here, though, our abundance of rich food can cause us trouble). Chemically inducing these same pathways can cause severe problems as well. While one temporarily feels good, the feeling does not last and we will invariably feel worse afterwards if we become addicted to the substance (not to mention the non-chemical damage, such as problems at home or work, with the law, etc). I’ve known a small number of addicts in my time, and they were unhappy, and it showed.

Antidepressants are helpful and perhaps essential for people prone to depression or other illnesses (people prone with depression often have drug abuse issues, such as with alcohol, cocaine, or other pleasure-boosting substances). But responsible use of antidepressants can be extremely helpful rather than harmful. And again, they’re not chemically addictive.

It’s amazing that this basic understanding is lost on some people. I’ve never been a drug-user (of the illegal or addictive variety), but I understand the issue and empathize with those caught in the chemical snare. After all, our very physiology and our capacity to produce potent drugs makes addiction inevitable for some people. Nehring’s faulty and simplistic analysis sheds no light on this issue.

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