drugs, right war – wrong weapons

Eighty to 90 percent of people who use crack and methamphetamine don’t get addicted…And the small number who do become addicted are nothing like the popular caricatures.
– Dr. Carl Hart, professor of psychology, Columbia University.

“The key factor is the environment, whether you’re talking about humans or rats”

Interview with Juan Williams for CSPAN Book TV:

“If you’re living in a poor neighborhood deprived of options, there’s a certain rationality to keep taking a drug that will give you some temporary pleasure,” Dr. Hart said in an interview, arguing that the caricature of enslaved crack addicts comes from a misinterpretation of the famous rat experiments.

According to Dr. Hart, the rat experiments were flawed. The infamous rats that pressed the levers for drugs were stressed. They lived isolated, solitary, with no options. In his experiments, Dr. Hart found that when rats were introduced into an environment with other stimuli such as sweets and the company of other rats – they eventually stopped pressing the levers.

Dr. Hart emphasizes that his primary research has been with people. “Drug abuse is not an affliction for laboratory animals, but is an affliction for many humans.” He arranged experiments in which drug addicts were offered a choice between a dose of the drug or cash or vouchers.
more about the experiment

They didn’t fit the caricature of the drug addict who can’t stop once he gets a taste,” Dr. Hart said. “When they were given an alternative to crack, they made rational economic decisions.

He repeated the experiment with meth addicts and had similar results.

“Carl’s overall argument is persuasive and driven by the data,” said Craig R. Rush, a psychologist at the University of Kentucky who studies stimulant abuse…

“He’s not saying that drug abuse isn’t harmful, but he’s showing that drugs don’t turn people into lunatics. They can stop using drugs when provided with alternative reinforcers.”

– from The Rational Choices of Crack Addicts – NYTimes

see: NYT Video from The Rational Choices of Crack Addicts

Columbia University Faculty Profile: Dr. Carl Hart


Dr. Hart is an Associate Professor of Psychology in both the Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology at Columbia University, and Director of the Residential Studies and Methamphetamine Research Laboratories at the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

A major focus of Dr. Hart’s research is to understand complex interactions between drugs of abuse and the neurobiology and environmental factors that mediate human behavior and physiology.

“My research with psychoactive drugs has the potential to:

  1. develop new theories about the neurochemical basis of several human behaviors;
  2. inform public policy about the benefits and risks of drug use; and
  3. guide the development of medications for drug abuse.”

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