Magazine article The Spectator

Addicted to Dopamine

Magazine article The Spectator

Addicted to Dopamine

Article excerpt

How do you stop people taking cocaine?

Illegality keeps it at bay a bit. It stops it being quite so freely available, but it makes it sexy, too. I wonder how much its illegal status really affects people's decision whether to take it or not. If the perils inherent aren't a deterrent, the risk of punishment is hardly likely to sway the balance. People might be encouraged to start smoking, drinking, snorting and ultimately injecting their eyeballs by others, but other people's efforts and assertions don't enter the picture when it comes to stopping. In our vices, we hear no other voices.

Obviously cocaine is a con, a bad longterm investment. It makes the brain produce dopamine, which makes you feel good, then after a while the brain doesn't produce as much dopamine as it did, so when you're not taking coke you're not getting as much dopamine as you were before you got involved so you have to keep servicing the dopamine debt. It's not that crazy.

Opening a dopamine account is like borrowing money with interest, really, and that's something we all accept. What else are bored rich people supposed to do all day?

I suppose I don't really like the idea of my doctor taking cocaine, or my bank manager.

Come to think of it, probably wouldn't ideally want the guy who fixes the car or the postman messing with their dopamine levels, particularly. Given the choice, all things being equal, I'd give the straight guy a job every time. At leisure, cocaine's immediate effects don't offend me. I don't mind my friends taking it, any more than I mind them drinking. The people I know who do take the stuff seem to have it under control most of the time, but it's unclear to me whether anyone can regularly take cocaine without being cocaine-dependent. Alcoholism is such a difficult thing to define that the World Health Organisation has dropped the term completely. Persistent use despite negative consequences is about as close as you'll get to a definition of dependence, but that still means almost everybody who drinks, or 'uses alcohol' to translate into 21st-century American.

Still, cocaine use is illegal and that's really where the problem starts getting serious for everybody. You might as well eat live endangered monkeys while firing a gun with your eyes closed, as take cocaine. It is the most fantastically antisocial, environmentally unsound, murderous product there is. …

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