Pop Rocks

The psychology behind the media bombast

Smoked Out

Why Mad Men might make you reach for your vices

Growing up we got peppered with all sorts of anti-drug campaigns. Recurring TV montages of a girl dying after trying ecstasy once and drug prevention programs did a pretty good job.

How I don't want to feel.


Not with everyone, obviously, since we all got suspiciously sniffed boarding our prom buses. But they cemented my fear of ever feeling like I'm going through Willy Wonka's tunnel of crazy, so I've never done anything more serious than periodically drink and smoke.

People pick up cancer sticks for a lot of reasons. Here are some of mine: Looking cool, long walks, road trips, sneaking a pocket of alone time with handsome men with poor dental hygiene at gatherings, breakups #1, 2, and 3.

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In short, there's no real sound logic to it. And the first time you have to begrudgingly say "yes" to your doctor's obligatory clipboard inquiry about the habit, you really start to feel like a jerk about it.

I eventually quit. The joy of having those dollars back! And not feeling gross when you walked into an elevator, among hundreds of other tiny victories.

Then I started watching Mad Men.

The 1960s must have smelled terrible.

Only one month into being a non-smoker, I was still in a vulnerable state. And seeing Don Draper and his cohorts take drag after drag after drag, I started to pine for that terrible rush of nausea again. I mean, they looked so elegant when their lives weren't dissolving into a series of vices!

I'd walk into a store and woefully stare at the wall behind the cashiers like Kevin McAllister peering into homes of happy families on Christmas. Finally during a marathon, all of my willpower crumbled, and the next day a pack of Parliaments was burning a hole of guilt in my purse.

The way I saw it, if you saw people eating pizza for six hours at a time, wouldn't you want a slice, too? And isn't sheer exposure the most basic tenet of advertising?

Turns out, I'm not too far off. In a recent study of binge eaters, just the sight or smell of obese participants and compulsive overeaters' favorite food would send their dopamine, a chemical that helps control the brain's reward centers, reeling.

Betty's dopamine in action.

Previous studies from the same team showed a similar effect on dopamine when drug users were shown images of people taking drugs. That might explain my extreme hankering for what I perceived as a reward: cigarettes. That or a bottle of top-shelf scotch.

Of course, we don't have to be pictorial serfs: We have a choice. But the scales tipping in favor of the healthier alternative become just so much more difficult when we face an onslaught of imagery, especially for those innately prone to addictive behaviors.

For now I'm safe: I quit and refuse to cave to one of the biggest disease instigators. Just cross your fingers for me when Mad Men returns next year.

Kasia Galazka is a New York-based freelance writer and psychology junkie who goes to as many concerts as she can afford.

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