Writing in 1979, prominent neurologist Richard Restak foresaw the end of mental illness and addiction as a result of neuroscience: "So far, researchers have carefully avoided hyperbole in their descriptions of the endorphins. But it's hard to leave out the exclamation points when you are talking about a veritable philosopher's stone – a group of substances that hold out the promise of alleviating, or even eliminating, such age-old medical bugaboos as pain, drug addiction and, among other mental illnesses, schizophrenia."
Have you noticed these conditions disappearing? In fact, at the same time that this was written, the "diseases" of addiction, ADHD, bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia began a precipitous climb that has left several of them ten and more times as frequent currently as when Restak made his optimistic pronouncement. How did that happen? One theory launched by a PT Blogger is that we had discovered the biological source for mental illness (i.e., depression) decades ago, but that this discovery was suppressed! I wrote about this bizarre claim: "As the definitive World Federation of Societies of Biological Psychiatry, a group committed to identifying such markers, declared in its consensus paper on the subject: 'no biological markers for major depression are currently available for inclusion in the diagnostic criteria.'"
Which brings us back to Restak's happy prediction that we were on the verge of curing addiction. Has addiction been declining? No so that we've noticed. Through the eighties (and since) Time, Newsweek, Scientific American, and other popular periodicals have run cover story after cover story displaying schematic views of the brain identifying where addiction occurs (often reproducing exact replicas of schematics they had shown several years earlier). But, strange to say, we never actually have found an identifiable source of addiction that could be excised from the brain, as these diagrams implied. Were we discouraged? No, a thousand times no! Those diagrams are just so damned neat!
One reason for the expansion of addiction is because we now recognize more things are addictive than only substances, as I identified in 1975 in Love and Addiction (written with Archie Brodsky). In addition to the greater availability of addictive activities and objects (social media, electronic games, designer drugs, rampant pain killers, etc.), we are much more likely to self-identify that we are -- and thus to actually be -- addicted. The psychological idea that thinking of yourself as addicted contributes to your being addicted -- which forms the basis for my forthcoming book Recover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict and Regain Your Life with The PERFECT Program -- is tough to swallow in this era of neuroscience. But this truth won't disappear, no matter how many magazine covers portray brain schemas.
Which brings us to the addiction reign in the United States of Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (note that this organization exists to identify the evils of drug use, primarily that it is addictive). Volkow is clear on the cause of addiction, and the New York Times presents her view as gospel: "She must say it a dozen times a day: Addiction is all about the dopamine." Volkow is the power behind the creation of the new medical specialty in addiction, represented by the American Board of Addiction Medicine, which declares: “Addiction is a chronic brain disease. . . .Addictive behaviors are a manifestation of the disease, not a cause.”
But Volkow, who the Times identifies as "a general in the drug war," has a problem in regards to her organization's mission:
“In the past, when we have addressed the issue of controlled substances, illicit or licit, we have been addressing drugs that we could remove from the earth and no one would suffer.” [Well, among licit controlled substances, there is alcohol -- and, now, marijuana -- both of whose disappearance from the earth some might object to.]
But prescription drugs, she continued, have a double life: They are lifesaving yet every bit as dangerous as banned substances. “The challenges we face are much more complex. . . .”
In fact, this is no problem for Volkow -- it simply expands her realm. Volkow is the granddaughter of Leon Trotsky, a Russian revolutionary who wanted to control the world. He failed, but his granddaughter is going beyond the limited boundaries of terrestrial power and control. She wants to control the core of our beings. As one of Volkow's admirers, Howard Markel, noted in a follow up to the Times's coronation of Volkow: "Dr. Volkow’s group and other scientists have used PET scans and functional magnetic resonance imaging to demonstrate similar dopamine receptor derangements in the brains of drug addicts, compulsive gamblers and overeaters who are markedly obese."
But why stop at gambling and eating? According to Larry Young, author of The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex and the Science of Attraction, “Dopamine is involved in reward and motivation for everything we do in life — whether we’re eating good food, drinking good wine or interacting with our kids and family.” Volkow is the scientist -- more like the divine ruler -- who is leading our society in addressing not only "such age-old medical bugaboos as pain, drug addiction and, among other mental illnesses, schizophrenia," but also family and love! After all, love can be the worst addiction. So what if our addictive and relationship problems multiply, rather than diminish, under this regime? It bears the mantle of science.