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And an apology . . .
Sorry that the first new posting in over a year is a solicitation for (indirect) financial support and for the moral boost knowing that we have supporters willing to take a moment out of their busy schedules to indicate continued support in a tangible form, but the reality of the situation is that limited financial support severely limits the time and resources available to continue development of our website -- both are a zero-sum game with never enough to fulfill all of our needs and good intentions. We plan on posting additional podcasts and new commentaries very soon, but the loss of our main computer used for this work along with the primary backup copies of the podcasts already completed and the availability of only outdated software resources have hampered moving forward when we now must spend time to tool-back-up for this work.
About the Addiction Science Network (ASNet)
Our work involves topics related to drug abuse, drug addiction, drug dependence, and other related topics in psychopharmacology including the biological basis of severe mental disorders. The ASNet Discussion Forum serves our primary missions of disseminating unbiased scientific information about drug addiction and advocacy of better harm-reduction strategies and science-based, rationale drug-regulation policies. We also have a podcast channel and a website that support these missions which is primarily aimed at academic and professional audiences. The free use and distribution (for noncommercial purposes) of the content of our resources is permitted as long as reference is made to the original source (minimum acknowledgement "Addiction Science Network;" preferably a direct link to the original source). We are always pleased to accept donations for our work, but donations do not qualify as charitable contributions according to IRS rules because of our advocacy policy. The limited advertisements we accept are clearly distinguishable from our content by their placement on the top and/or bottom of individual webpages and by the fact that all off-site content should open a new browser window; a small payment is received on a pay-per-click basis without our readers incurring any expense (no purchase of goods or services necessary). Sponsors who make financial or in-kind contributions to support our work are acknowledged on our homepage and sometimes elsewhere on our website. Neither sponsors nor advertisers have any influence on the published content of this website.
Some commentaries that receive sufficient interest to merit revision will be reissued as a succinct statement that incorporates highlights from the subsequent discussion and/or follow-up commentaries (i.e., highlights of related commentaries). These new summaries are designed to summarize the main discussion in a simple, concise manner. The Keep It Simple Stupid approach is affectionately referred to as the "KISS version" and will include a trackback to the original commentary or commentaries and any relevant discussion for those who would like to read the full version or retrace the original discussion(s). The KISS versions are provided as a convenience to those who don't wish to read through the entire original posting(s) and subsequent replies that generated the proverbial 'bottom line.' This should be especially useful for the 'speed surfers' who peruse a lot of material, very quickly on the Internet and help viewers to determine which commentaries merit slowing down to ponder the discussion. Some commentaries that address interrelated topics (often interspersed with unrelated commentaries) will be consolidated into a single KISS version as will select commentaries that have later podcasts appended.
Criteria for generating a KISS version include:
Perhaps this KISS announcement will merit a KISS itself.
We have added several more podcasts, including two full-length lectures from an academic course on drug addiction taught at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Links for listening to the podcasts as streaming audio without downloading are embedded in the podcast titles below (i.e., click on the titles). The podcasts are listed in reverse chronological order, so you should begin on the bottom and work your way up to the latest one on the top if you wish to listen to them in sequence. You can also visit and bookmark the ASNet Podcast Directory which contains the complete listing and will usually be updated faster than our updates are posted here. You should bookmark the ASNet web page because we may discontinue use of the Podomatic hosting service at any time. We're pleased with their service, but they are another expense that we may cut to allocate our resources elsewhere. (See the bottom of the page if you would like to see us continue using their streaming audio service.)
Essential Concepts for Understanding Addiction (part-2)
Essential Concepts for Understanding Addiction (part-1)
Why Distinguishing Drug Dependence from Drug Addiction is Important
Why Distinguishing Drug Abuse from Drug Addiction is Important
Defining Addiction: What are the Necessary Attributes?
E=MC(2) and the Science of Addiction
A Primer on Addiction
We anticipate re-recording many of the 'studio' podcasts as we gain experience with this technology and consider investing in better quality equipment. Meanwhile, we wanted to get as much information out ASAP to a potentially new audience by using this popular media, so please excuse our rather amateurish quality at this time. The live lectures may be capturing the last of such lectures by the "professor" as he continues to battle health problems. Undoubtedly much of the fatigue in the mouth muscles already shows up on the recordings and hey, you never know, these may be the legacy tapes, so enjoy the live 'performances,' or not.
Finally, a donation link appears at the bottom of the ASNet podcast directory page. Our services are free, they always have been and they always will be, but of course you're free to make a donation. The podcasts incur additional expenses in increased bandwidth requirements, server storage space, and hardware upgrades (we've filled up the last few gigabytes on our hard drive; we're considering investing in better quality recording equipment). Some of the material may be of value to professionals who normally pay considerable sums for this type of training, and they are especially encouraged to make a small donation. We do not want any donations, even 'pizza money' from undergraduate or graduate students or from medical students. Save your money; buy a pizza and relax with your friends -- "these are the good old days," so enjoy them a little along the way (study and work hard too). Remember us when you have a little money to spare and consider donating then. Meanwhile, live, love, and learn.
We have chosen to define “addiction” as a behavioral syndrome where drug use and procurement seem to dominate the individual’s motivation and where the normal constraints on behavior are largely ineffective. There are other important attributes of addiction that are usually included in various definitions of this term. The question of interest is whether other attributes are necessary components of a formal definition or whether they add needlessly to the number of terms used to define what we mean by “addiction.” Succinct definitions not only ‘save words,’ but they keep the focus on the primary variable(s) of interest and help to prevent confusing effects with causes in our definitions. The definition adopted here is less than 25 words, and there are definite advantages to keeping definitions sufficiently short so as to simply memorization and to facilitate accurate conveyance amongst those discussing the same phenomenon. One of the biggest challenges to any discourse, whether it be lay, academic or professional, involves semantics or making sure that all parties are actually discussing the same thing. Succinct, consensually accepted definitions facilitate conversations at all levels.
The “Pizza and beer” syllogism is perhaps the most famous example illustrating how a statement that seems logically correct leads to an erroneous conclusion.
- Pizza and beer are better than nothing.
- Nothing is better than going to heaven.
- Therefore, pizza and beer are better than going to heaven!
The syntax is logically correct, but there is a breakdown in semantics involving the meaning of the word “nothing” that invalidates the apparent conclusion. In the first context “nothing” refers to “the absence of anything,” while in the second context it refers to “no-thing.” It is critically important to avoid these types of semantic breakdowns in discussions of addiction, and thus the need for a concise definition that identifies the defining attribute(s) of an addiction while relegating the others characteristics often included to descriptive text.
Addiction is often defined as “a chronically relapsing disorder” or “disease” (whether addiction is indeed a “disorder” or a “disease” is a point of considerable debate in itself; see Drug Addiction as a "Disease"). The phrase "chronically relapsing" certainly describes an important characteristic of an addiction, but is it necessary in a concise definition? The intense motivational strength of an addiction not only predicts the high relapse rates, but it also predicts other attributes of addiction such as motivational toxicity which describes the drug’s impact on normal motivated behaviors such as eating and sexuality. The fact that a single attribute (i.e., motivational strength) can predict from simple logical deduction several other characteristics that are commonly seen in addiction makes this single attribute more valuable as the defining characteristic than is compiling an unnecessarily longer list of characteristics for inclusion in the formal definition of addiction. These other commonly observed features are perhaps best considered simply “characteristics” of an addiction because they can all be derived from the single defining attribute (i.e., high motivation for drug administration). This same logic also applies to adding “motivational toxicity” to formal definitions of addiction. While it may appear to be a defining characteristic, the motivational toxicity inherent in an addiction can also be predicted by simply understanding that addictive drugs produce an intense motivational state and thus even if they lacked their ability to blunt the rewarding impact of natural rewards they would still seemingly overtake the normal motivations in the individual’s life. The same might be said for the second characteristic included in our definition, specifically, that “the normal constraints on behavior are largely ineffective,” but this phrase not only underscores the intense motivation to obtain the addictive drug but also reminds the reader that motivational strength is reflected not only in how hard one will work for the goal object but also by the willingness to overcome aversive conditions which might normally inhibit goal-directed behavior.
Other considerations for inclusion in a comprehensive definition of addiction include the addict’s perceived sense of a “loss of control.” Again, this variable might be deduced simply by considering that the normal choice perceived when several, closely competing goals which vie for the individual’s ‘attention’ and behavior are obviated by a single, overwhelmingly strong motivator—the addictive drug. In other words, the cognitions associated with classic approach-approach and approach-avoidance conflicts might give rise to a sense of ‘choice,’ and these conflicts are less prominent in cases where the motivation to ‘approach’ the goal object (in this case, use the drug) is so strong as to dominate unquestionably the other motivations. In such cases the perception of choice might be absent and the individual may feel that they no longer have control over their own behavior, but rather, that they are being driven by some external force. In a sense they are correct—the stimulus properties of the drug and other cues in conjunction with the (largely unconscious) anticipation of reward engage the individual’s behavior in a manner consistent with the notion of “enslavement” to the external agent (i.e., functionally the drug is serving as the ‘master’ and the addict as the 'slave'). As discussed elsewhere, this apparent “enslavement” is consistent with the etymology of the term “addiction” and adds credence to the use of the term in this fashion as opposed to the popular misconception of “addiction” as physical dependence upon a substance.
The last consideration that might be addressed by our definition of addiction is whether we consider it a disease or a disorder. The definition used here avoids this debate by simply defining “addiction” as a “behavioral syndrome.” Whether it is truly best considered a disease or a disorder is moot for our definition which emphasizes the behavior of the individual as being the primary descriptive variable and hence is consistent with the term’s etymology of "addiction" as "enslavement." As discussed elsewhere, the disease-disorder debate resolves down to one largely of who ‘owns’ the territory—the medical establishment or psychologists, counselors, and social workers (see Drug Addiction as a "Disease"). There are of course other important considerations for whether a pathology is considered a disease or disorder, such as locus of control—biological or more “psychological”—along with the ensuing implications of how to best approach treatment and the degree of individual responsibility for their own ‘problem’ (e.g., the use of the term “disease” implies that the individual has relatively little control over the course of the pathology and that some external treatment is necessary to remediate the problem). There would appear to be no advantages to including the term “disorder” in a formal definition of addiction, but additional characteristics conveyed by the use of the term “disease” merit further consideration for future revisions to our ‘working’ definition. On the other hand, the use of the term disorder would imply that addiction is not a disease, while the description as “a behavioral syndrome” avoids pronouncement on this hotly debated topic.
It is always tempting when formulating definitions to be all encompassing or at least to describe enough of the phenomenon under discussion to vividly illustrate its many facets. Indeed, the more one knows the more eagerly one tries to share their knowledge with anyone and everyone who will listen. Understanding the many aspects of addiction, something shared by more than a few researchers and clinicians, seemingly implores one to offer mini-lectures or tutorials at every opportunity. And when it comes to formal definitions, the desire to share all often gets the best of even academic scholars who should understand well the need for concise definitions devoid of superfluous adjectives. Nonetheless, multifaceted phenomena like addiction are often described from the perspective of individual disciplines studying only one or a few of its many features without trying to identify a common underlying variable responsible for the various attributes.
In this way most definitions focus too much on the vicissitudes of addiction which distract from the core phenomenon responsible for these other, secondary characteristics. Indeed, this often overshadows the primary characteristic of an addiction. In other words, the motivational characteristic of an addiction (which is used here as the basis for its definition) produces the other features such as “chronically relapsing disorder,” the addict’s “perceived loss of control,” and even the “motivational toxicity” inherent in an addiction. Inclusion of these other, secondary characteristics tends to obscure the primary characteristic of the addiction and in some respects seemingly confuses its effects with its cause (i.e., the intense motivational strength can be viewed as the cause and these other features as effects of the addiction!) This is an example of why good science strives to simplify things, to render them in their simplest, not most complex, terms; good definitions like good theories retain a vision of “the forest for the trees,” hence not letting the details obscure the bigger picture. In case anyone is still wondering whether a useful definition of addiction can be resolved down to just 25 words or less the answer is yes, indeed it can, and we are better off ‘keeping it simple stupid’ to ensure the semantic integrity of our discussion of this seemingly complex, multifaceted phenomenon.
So what do we have nearly 1400 words later when we’ve finished with this relatively brief examination of the terms frequently used to define addiction? We’re right back where we started: “addiction” can be defined as a behavioral syndrome where drug use and procurement seem to dominate the individual’s behavior and where the normal constraints on behavior are largely ineffective. The difference between the closing and beginning positions of this discourse lies in the certainly with which we succinctly define addiction—acknowledging the phenomenology of these other important attributes, but rendering their incorporation into a formal definition of addiction (albeit a ‘working’ one) unnecessary.
The podcast of this presentation can be downloaded from our ASNet Podcast Directory.
Click here to listen to the podcast without downloading (length: 11min48sec). Click on the ASNet podcast logo (Anpu) to pause the imbedded player.
The transfer of the ASNet website to another platform by the hosting service introduced a number of errors into various web pages throughout the site. A “bit” here, a “byte” there led to toggling bold print, centering lines, or dropping some HTML code into the middle of the text. Many of these problems were undetected and unreported—some just took a long time to correct because of a lack of staff. Still others are awaiting their ‘fix’ some time in the future when resources permit. (For example, numerous corrections have been made to the individual chapters of the online book on Assessing Drug Reinforcement; additional corrections and enhancements are planned.) If you have difficulty accessing a page or if you find typographical errors, problems should be reported to webmaster@AddictionScience.net for correction.
The most significant recent addition to the Addiction Science Network is the ASNet Discussion Forum. But if you’re reading this ASNet Update, you’re already well aware of the Forum. The Discussion Forum has two purposes—to educate by ‘discussing’ various terms, concepts, and other issues in drug addiction and to open some topics for general discussion and comments. Postings that specifically seek opinion are easily identified by the question or questions bold printed near the end of the posting. Commentary is always welcomed, but it is especially appreciated on these ‘open questions.’ Also, remember that RSS feeds from the ASNet Discussion Forum Announcements will take the place of the old ASNet Updates e-mail notification by the end of the year. Both the Firefox and the Sea Monkey browsers have RSS readers built into their applications as does the latest version of Microsoft’s Outlook.
AdSense is being added to most web pages. The revenue generated by participation in this program is very small even when people do click on the advertisements. The primary purpose of incorporating AdSense into the ASNet website (and into the Discussion Forum in the future) is to provide real-time data on Internet traffic for the corresponding pages. No information is collected regarding individual visitors—only information regarding the number of visitors to a page. This helps to direct limited ASNet resources to where they will have the most impact: working to improve the impact of pages with little traffic but important content, and working to further enhance the impact of already popular pages. Please note that the Addiction Science Network does not accept advertisements nor does it collect any fees from any of these ‘sponsors’ directly—the content of the AdSense displays are controlled by Google and should not be interpreted as an endorsement of any kind.
Finally, near the bottom of the AddictionScience.net home page there are acknowledgements of open source software, specifically the Sea Monkey and b2evolution programs that are used to develop this website and to provide the Discussion Forum, respectively. A link to the popular Firefox Internet browser is also included as is a link to the OpenSource.org consortium. These are unpaid, unsolicited ‘advertisements’ for these non-profit projects that provide free software for the Internet and thereby help keep the costs low at the ASNet—free is good, free is appreciated, and free is gratefully acknowledged.
Below is an example of the Google AdSense Advertisements that may appear in some postings. Clicking on these links take you to websites not affiliated with the ASNet.
This post was actually planned for a later date after the groundwork was laid by exploring basic topics regarding drug abuse and addiction on the ASNet Discussion Forum. However, the recent post on Salvia Divinorum (and to a lesser extent the medical marijuana post) propels this topic to the forefront a bit ahead of schedule. When discussing this topic it is essential to keep in mind the differences between drug abuse and drug addiction and their underlying causes (i.e, the biological basis of addiction vs. the psychosocial factors that often govern drug abuse). A lot of confusion arises from simple problems in semantics when discussing psychoactive drug use, the effects of such drugs, and the rights of individuals. Some of the essential concepts have been presented already on the ASNet Discussion Forum or the Addiction Science Network website (see Related Topics on the ASNet below), but others have not yet been explored adequately. Thus, this topic is a somewhat premature.
The question open for comment is: “does the individual living in a free society have the right to use psychotropic substances?” There are a number of secondary questions that arise from this topic.
The ASNet drug-regulation policy stands firmly behind the strict control of highly addictive drugs. These substances (e.g., 'hard drugs' such as cocaine and heroin) compromise the individual's ability to 'choose' whether to use the substance or not by altering the individual's motivational hierarchy in such a way as to thrust the addictive drug near the top of the person's motivational priorities (see A Primer on Addiction). On the other hand, some psychoactive substances (e.g., caffeine) clearly do not compromise the individual's self-control in a significant way and therefore can be considered part of 'life's little pleasures.' Between these two extremes lie substances that cause considerable alteration in perception, cognition, and/or affect (e.g., 'soft drugs' such as marijuana and LSD) that potentially pose a risk for the individual and for society by impairing judgment and impulse inhibition of the individual while they are experiencing the psychotropic effects of the substance (e.g., intoxication, hallucinations). This is in contradistinction to truly addictive drugs where the risk to the individual and to society is primarily when the individual is not experiencing the psychoactive effect of the drug.
Addiction science can contribute to the development of rational drug-control policy by differentiating drugs that a large proportion of individuals might be expected to ‘lose control’ of their ability to regulate their own drug-using behavior from substances that most individuals experience little difficulty in regulating their own substance use. Other issues that determine society’s acceptance of its citizens’ use of psychotropic substances involve safety (a rational consideration) and moral control (usually a non-rational consideration). Addiction science and the reporting of experimental findings should not present biased information to conform to moral control issues dictated by society or by its government agencies—it should clearly present the facts as the facts, letting individuals make rational decisions regarding personal use on the individual scale and regarding the development of rational drug-control policies on the societal scale.
Related Topics on the ASNet
A Primer on Drug Addiction
The Nature of Addiction
Distinguishing Drug Abuse from Drug Addiction
Distinguishing Drug Dependence from Drug Addiction
Biological Basis of Addiction
Hard and Soft Drugs
A new category for commentary on the ASNet Discussion Forum is being introduced to address drug use other than addictive drug use. Specifically, this category includes the use of psychoactive substances to which the individual hasn’t developed an addiction. In some cases this will involve the use of substances to which addiction is unlikely; in other cases this will involve early-stage use of an addictive substance before an addiction has actually developed.
It is not the intent of the ASNet to encourage illicit substance use by openly discussing this topic. However, it is rather obvious that people do use illicit substances, often in a “recreational” fashion, and that such substance use will continue despite relentless government efforts for social control. It is also possible that the regulations regarding some substances that are now illicit should be relaxed and individuals should be permitted to use these substances freely or under somewhat restricted circumstances.
Before posting or commenting in this category please read the materials recommended below to learn how addiction is defined on this discussion forum, the important difference between drug abuse and addiction, and the relationship of drug dependence to addiction and to drug abuse. Misunderstanding fundamental concepts and breakdown in simple semantics contribute much to the confusion regarding the discussion of these issues.
Addiction science should withhold moral judgments regarding the use of licit or illicit psychoactive substances. Science should provide the unbiased data from which others can make rational decisions regarding their own personal use and regarding the development of formal drug-regulation policies. Within this context, the forum ‘owner’ will occasionally offer comments relevant to the science of addiction or to psychopharmacology in general, but the moral issues regarding psychoactive substance use is left for debate elsewhere (or at least confined to a single, specific ‘thread’ and not interwoven through the pages of the other topics). The topics of interest here include:
(This latter topic is related to the ASNet harm-reduction initiative and comments may be incorporated into the ASNet webpage listing “safer practices for using unsafe substances.”)
Recommended Readings on the ASNet
A Primer on Drug Addiction
The Nature of Addiction
Distinguishing Drug Abuse from Drug Addiction
Distinguishing Drug Dependence from Drug Addiction
Biological Basis of Addiction
Hard and Soft Drugs
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An open, unmoderated discussion forum for the Addiction Science Network, promoting free and open exchange of evidence-based information and promoting scientific analysis of drug addiction and related topics.