The popular british soap “Eastenders” now has a crack addiction storyline which was inspired by the real life experiences of the actor playing the addict. Obviously, crack use is dangerous, and I don’t condone it, but I also can’t stand by idly while misinformation is spread about it. The actor, Paul White, is publicly speaking about his experiences and helping to spread the long held myth that if you smoke crack even one time, you will be instantly addicted and unable to stop yourself from using. Here’s an excerpt from the article at The Mirror:
Paul, 41, who is now clean with the help of drug charity Addaction, lost four years and 200,000 pounds on crack. Like Phil (his character on Eastenders) he wasnt involved with drugs before and became an addict after one hit. Here, Paul, from the Midlands shares the harrowing details:
Watching Phil is terrifying for me, and a very emotional experience. People might find it upsetting but thats the reality. You can see how instantly addictive crack is. Once you’ve tried it, thats it, your life isnt your own. You’ll spend everything, do anything, to get more. Crack comes first and everything else second.
I wasnt some hedonistic teenager. I had a home, a job, friends, family and a girlfriend. Thats all gone now. I’ve got a single suitcase full of things and thats it.
So we are to believe that all was well in his life and a single hit of crack instantly turned him into an addict and robbed him of everything? I don’t doubt that he experienced a feeling of powerlessness, but I do take issue with the idea that one hit makes you an addict. I have two problems with this premise, first- that it’s been disproved long ago, second, that it contributes to a self-fulfilling prophecy in those who believe it.
Let me state clearly: You will not become a crack addict from smoking crack one time. Here is the evidence, from nearly TWENTY years ago:
The best data available…..(is) from the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA, 1991b). Readers reared on the frightening claims of clinicians, politicians, and the media may be surprised to learn from the NIDA survey that only about one in twelve (8%) of Americans aged twelve and over who have ever tried cocaine had used it at all in the month prior to the survey. This figure was somewhat higher for crack, but still only about one in eight (12.3%) of those who have ever tried crack had used it in the month prior to the survey. The fraction of these “past-month” users who go on to daily use and therefore, arguably, to “addiction” is far smaller. In interpreting these data, it is also important to recognize that precisely because smoking is a more direct mode of ingestion offering a much more intense high, the fraction of cocaine users who are drawn to crack is very likely to be among the heaviest users to begin with. Further, crack was introduced and systematically marketed in impoverished inner-city communities where powder cocaine was less affordable and less available (Hamid, 1992; Inciardi, 1987), which means that crack has been disproportionately available to just those parts of the population who are most vulnerable to the abuse of any drug (Anthony, 1991; Kandel, 1991). Thus, the different continuation rates for crack and powder cocaine may be explained in part by differences in the social circumstances of users themselves.
Data from NIDA’s High School Senior Survey make much the same point. For example, in 1991, among students who reported having ever tried crack, only one in thirty-five reported daily or near daily use—rates virtually identical to those for powder cocaine. In fact, among high school seniors, the continuation rates for alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes, and LSD were all higher than for either powder cocaine or crack (Johnston et al., 1991). Regular use of any drug, licit or illicit, is not something anyone wants to see among high school students. But when the best available evidence shows that the vast majority of young people who try crack do not go on to use it regularly, and when only a small fraction of even these go on to daily use, it is clear that the claim that crack is “instantaneously addicting” is false.
These data indicate not only that relatively few cocaine users become “dependent”—whatever their route of administration—but that smoking cocaine by itself does not increase markedly the likelihood of dependence. This latter finding is important because it means that the claim that cocaine is much more addictive when smoked (Gold, 1984; Inciardi, 1987; Jekeletal., 1986; Jerietal., 1978; Siegel, 1982,1984; Washtonetal., 1986) must be reexamined.
So only 1 out of every 8 people who try smoking crack have used it in the past month, and only 1 out of every 35 high school students who try smoking crack go on to daily use. Clearly, the idea that one hit of crack turns you into an addict is a myth.
Later in the interview with Paul White, we learn this:
I had problems with drinking but I went to AA at 22. You would never have looked at me and thought I could be a drug addict. But years later I started drinking again. I split up with my girlfriend then I met this woman out shopping one day. She seemed interested in me and I thought I’d pulled. When I went to her flat she had a crack pipe there and offered me some.
So now we see that there are other factors at play. White was a member of AA, an organization which actively spreads the disease theory of addiction, and requires in the first step of their plan of action that you admit that you are powerless over alcohol (or drugs). So at age 22 he was taught to believe that his behavior was the result of a disease and that he could not control it, but instead only hope that God would step in with a miracle to stop him from using substances. Presumably, he also believes the all or nothing view of substance use promoted by AA in which you can completely abstain, or have one drink or drug which inevitably and disastrously leads to a complete loss of control that ends with jails, institutions, or death. Knowing this, it’s not surprising that he experienced a total loss of control – he believed that he had a disease or “allergy” and that one drink or one drug could only lead to this result, so he behaved in accordance with his expectations and lived up to them. This is the destructive self-fulfilling prophecy to which I referred earlier. Besides the fact the rate of recovery for addicts in treatment is lower than for those who don’t attend treatment, it has also been found that relapse can be predicted with 85% accuracy, based on the subject’s belief in the disease theory. The more you believe in the disease, the more likely you are to relapse, and I believe, the more likely you are to fit into the stereotype of addiction implied by the disease theory and promoted by it’s advocates in the recovery culture.
One hit of crack will not make you an addict. It is a myth. Believing that one hit makes you an addict, will lead you to behave like an addict. Believing you have a disease and that you can’t control yourself, will lead you to behave in that way.
Don’t believe the hype. Crack is wack, and myths about drugs and addiction are even more wack.