Posts Tagged ‘Johann Hari’

Addiction, depression and the war on drugs

January 23, 2019

Hat tip to Pete’s Politics and Variety.

Johann Hari is the author of Chasing the Scream: the First and Last Days of the War on Drugs (2015) and Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions (2018)

In the first book, he argued that drug addiction is not mainly a chemical dependency; it is an escape from pain and misery.  In the second, he argued that depression is not mainly a result of a chemical imbalance, it is a reaction to pain and misery.

The answer to both addiction and depression, Hari believes, is to enable people to fulfill their basic needs, material and psychological.

Late last year he was in Brazil, promoting the Portuguese-language version of Lost Connections, and did a wide-ranging interview with Glenn Greenwald about addiction, depression and drug policy.

The most interesting part, to me, starts at about the 38 minute mark.  It is about Switzerland’s successful drug legalization policy, which began in 1991.  

In Switzerland, a heroin addict can visit a clinic and get a medically-supervised injection of heroin.  This does not, as I might have thought, lead to an increase in heroin use.  Just the opposite!

The reason is that Switzerland uses the money saved from not enforcing drug laws to help addicts obtain jobs. housing and therapy.  Over time they commonly find they no longer want to escape from reality.

This fits in with the famous “rat park” experiment.  Scientists found that rats in cages prefer heroin to food and water to the point where they literally will die of starvation.  But one scientist decided to create a “rat park,” containing everything that might constitute a good life from a rat’s point of view.  Happy rats had no interest in heroin.

Unfortunately I don’t think such an experiment is feasible in the United States.  The reason is that millions of Americans, maybe a majority of the population, are stressed and fearful.  Many can’t pay their medical bills.  Many are burdened with student debt. Many are losing ground economically.

I think they would be very jealous if the minority of the population who are addicted to drugs are guaranteed jobs, housing and even drugs themselves.  It is actually more practical to make things better for the American public as a whole than for a targeted group, such as addicts.

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Jordan Peterson takes antidepressants

April 24, 2018

Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, author of the best-selling 12 Rules for Life, said in a 2012 interview (above) that he takes antidepressants and expects to take them for the rest of his life.

I don’t have any current information, but my guess is that this is still true.

His daughter Mikhaila, who was 20 back then, also said she takes antidepressants.  Peterson believes he is subject to a genetic flaw that his grandfather and father also had.

This runs counter to the argument of British journalist Johann Hari, whose new book, Lost Connections, was reviewed by me in my previous post.  Hari said people are depressed not because things are wrong in their brains, but because things are wrong in their lives, which is often due to things that are wrong with society in general.

All three generations of Peterson appeared to have everything that makes life living—meaningful work, friends, loving marriages, children and the respect of their communities.

Yet Jordan Peterson’s grandfather and father went to pieces in middle age, and Peterson himself thinks that he might have suffered the same fate if antidepressants hadn’t been available.

Mikhaila, the daughter, did go through a lot of suffering.  She suffered from rheumatoid arthritis from a young age and had to have hip and ankle replacements.  But she didn’t suffer alone.  She had the support of parents and friends.

So none of the Petersons fit the profile of typical depressed people as reported in Lost Connections.

Hari reported on clinical studies comparing patients who’ve been given antidepressants with patients who’ve been given placebos and patients who’ve been given nothing.

They indicate that 50 percent of the apparent benefit of antidepressants comes from the placebo effect and 25 percent from people simply getting better on their own.

That, of course, leaves a remaining 25 percent who actually were helped.  Hari said nobody understands how this works, because the effects of the various antidepressants are widely different.  Some increase serotonin, some decrease it, some increase or decrease dopamine and other biochemicals.  Also, many of them have bad side effects.

Peterson said that antidepressants work best for people who outwardly have great lives and are depressed for no apparent reason.   If you are depressed because you are unemployed, divorced or lonely, antidepressants won’t fix you, he said; you need to look for a job, a new mate and new friends.

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Antidepressants not a cure for lost connections

April 23, 2018

Journalist Johann Hari said in his new book that people who are depressed are not victims of bad brain chemistry.  They are depressed because they are disconnected from things that make life worth living.

They are disconnected from meaningful work, meaningful values and meaningful relationships with other people, from status and respect, the natural world and a secure or hopeful future.

In LOST CONNECTIONS: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—And the Unexpected Solutions (2018), Hari walks the reader through the scientific research that shows how people suffer when they are disconnected from the things they need, and how they can heal when they recover those connections.

Depression and anxiety are big problems.  Hari said psychiatric drugs are being taken by one in five American adults, one in three French adults and an even higher proportion in the UK.

The death rate in the United States is actually increasing, driven by “deaths of despair”—suicide, drug overdoses and alcohol-caused liver disease.   The World Health Organization reported in 2010 that depression is the world’s second leading cause of disability.

Hari said therapists can help, and gave examples.  He said there are ways people can help themselves, and gave examples.  Medication has its place, although often ineffective.  Hari deeply regrets the 13 years of his own life that he spent taking antidepressants.

But feelings of depression and anxiety are not the problem, according to Hari.   Pain, whether mental or physical, is a message that lets you know something is seriously wrong.   The rising rate of depression is a message telling us that something is wrong with our society.

∞∞∞

In organizations, you might think that the managers and decision makers would be under the most stress, while those with less responsibility would be the least stressed.  A study of the British civil service, among others, showed that the opposite is true.  The lower your rank, the higher the stress.

What causes stress is lack of control, Hari reported.   Employees are stressed when they have to produce results without being able to use their best judgment as to how to produce these results.

They are stressed when they don’t know the meaning or purpose of their work.  They are stressed when nobody notices whether they are doing a good job or not.  They are stressed when they’re on call even after the work day ends.   They are stressed when they don’t know whether they are going to have a job next week or next year.  Lost Connections gives examples of workers dealing with all these things.

Stressful working conditions are on the increase.  We the people were told that technological advances would result in all the routine work being done by machines, and more fulfilling, higher-level tasks being done by humans.  I believe such a path is possible, but it has not been the path chosen.

Instead we got Frederick W. Taylor’s scientific management, factory automation and computer numerically-controlled machines.  The purpose of these innovations was not to make workers more skilled.  It was to make them more replaceable.

High tech executives continue to push to eliminate the human factor from work, even when there is no need or demand for it, such as self-driving cars, and even when the public hates it, such as elimination of human interaction from customer service.

Workers do not suffer from a chemical imbalance, Hari wrote; they suffer from a power imbalance.

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‘The opposite of addiction is connection’

July 21, 2015

Hat tip to Andrew Tobias.

A controversial British journalist named Johann Hari has written a book, Chasing the Scream, (which I haven’t read) , arguing that drug addiction is not caused by the body’s response to the drugs themselves.

He said addiction is caused by people being so disconnected from society and so lacking in life’s normal satisfactions that the pleasure of taking drugs is life’s best alternatives.

Hari based his conclusion on two experiments.  One involved rats.  The other involved the people of Portugal.

Experimenters in the 1950s and 1960s found that caged rats, when offered the option of self-administering heroin, would take the heroin in preference to food and water.

But another scientist, Bruce Alexander, noted that rats are social, active and sexual creatures.  A rat in a cage is equivalent to a human being in solitary confinement.  He wondered what normal rats would do if exposed to heroin.

Starting in 1977, he created a “rat park”—a kind of paradise for rats—in which there was plenty of cheese, and brightly-colored objects, tunnels to hide in, plus other rats to hang out with, including sexy members of the opposite sex.

These rats had no interest in morphine-laced water, even when mixed with sugar to make it more attractive.

Furthermore rats that had been turned into heroin addicts in cages lost interest in drugs when released into the rat park.

Portugal’s experiment began in 2001.  The country had a serious drug addiction problem, and arresting and punishing drug addicts was as ineffective there as it was elsewhere.

So the government tried a different approach.  They reduced the penalty for possession of small amounts of illegal drugs—a supply of less than 10 days—to a minor offense, equivalent to a traffic ticket.

But instead of just leaving it at that, the Portuguese government put the resources that formally went into drug enforcement to helping drug addicts lead a normal life—for example, by subsidizing salaries so they could get jobs.

There is something about this that doesn’t sit quite well with me.  Why should an addict get help from the government that is not available to someone who keeps free of addiction?  It is like Jesus’s parable of the Prodigal Son.  Why should the son who goes away and wastes his life be treated better than the faithful son who stayed at home and did his duty?

But this is not rational thinking.  The fact is that the Portuguese solution worked.  Drug addiction didn’t vanish, but Portugal has one of the lowest addiction rates in Europe.   Mercy, forgiveness and human kindness work (in this case) better than a narrow idea of justice.

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