Dr. Carl Hart Says We’re Wrong about Addiction; We Say WTF
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Dr. Carl Hart Says We’re Wrong about Addiction; We Say WTF


Columbia professor and addiction “expert” Dr. Carl Hart is in the news again in the wake of his recent TEDMED Talk on the misconceptions he feels people have about drug addiction. The medical community seems to eat up Hart’s confident breakdown of why the things we believe about drug addiction are outdated and inaccurate. The problem is—and it’s a big one—it doesn’t appear that the highly educated and media-exposed neuroscientist has any idea what the hell he is talking about.

Okay, that was aggressive. But as a sober alcoholic who spends three or fours hours a week around other recovering alcoholics and addicts—not to mention the handful of girls I sponsor and take calls from regarding their struggle with the disease of addiction—I have some thoughts of my own. Here’s one: I find Hart’s scientific ranting about our “assumptions” when it comes to addiction—based on studies done on animals 50 years ago—sorta blood boiling. It seems Hart is unaware of the millions of people who battle drug and alcohol addiction every day and the estimated 10 percent of Americans who have sought help and achieved sobriety. Don’t these studies count?

The problem with allowing a neuroscientist to examine addiction is that it’s not really a neuroscientific issue—it’s an emotional and psychological issue that can be a result of a number of factors from genetic disposition to childhood trauma to simply being prescribed highly addictive medication. The claim that Hart makes—that 80 to 90 percent of the people who use illegal drugs don’t end up as addicts—seems out of context and highly skewed. For example, I would assume most Americans born after 1940 have tried marijuana at least once in their lives—including, as Hart points out, our last three presidents. Smoking a few joints in your life does not qualify you to be a part of an overall statistic about drug addiction. Marijuana, which has been illegal in most states until the last decade, is not a highly addictive drug and rarely causes a person to become hooked after the first hit. Also, just because George W. Bush got treatment for his cocaine problem and licked it (as far as we know) doesn’t mean he wasn’t addicted. In fact, if he went to get treatment, he likely was.

Hart supposedly got into neuroscience and addiction because he was determined to find out how drug addiction had caused crime and poverty in his Miami neighborhood, only to find that his assumptions were wrong—that the two weren’t correlated. His “proof” of this is partially based on studies he conducted in 2000 and again in 2012 where he offered active drug addicts a small amount of money or the drug of their choice. More than half the time, the addicts chose the money, which I think proves only that drug addicts get hungry, too. While $5 can’t buy you much crack, it can get you a foot-long at Subway so it sounds like these studies didn’t prove that people weren’t addicted—just that many addicts are experts at getting their needs met.

Unfortunately, no amount of science can compare to what many of us already know. Test on rats and street junkies all you want; just know that it’s probably not going to tell us much we don’t already understand about physical addiction because there is so much more to drug addiction and alcoholism than that. If it was merely a physical addiction or a choice between money or drugs, there wouldn’t be people staying clean and sober for months and years and then relapsing. Once the substance was out of the system, the issue would be solved, right? But we know this isn’t true. I say listen to Hart if it makes you feel better but I can guarantee that there are thousands if not millions of people with first-hand knowledge who know what he’s saying isn’t true.

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About Author

Danielle Stewart is a Los Angeles-based writer and recovering comedian. She has written for Showtime, E!, and MTV, as well as print publications such as Us Weekly and Life & Style Magazine. She returned to school and is currently working her way towards a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She loves coffee, Law & Order SVU, and her emotional support dog, Benson.