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Addicted to Punta (Pardon the Slang)

What Marion Barry and Rat Park have in common

Marion Barry, the former Mayor of Washington DC who died last month, was removed from office in disgrace in 1990 when he was shown smoking crack on video (he was re-elected in 1995, the DC electorate being of a forgiving nature*). But what Barry actually proved about addiction is that sex, along with love, are far more addictive than drugs—the same thing Bruce Alexander's famous experiment, Rat Park, proves.

In the videotape, set up as a part of an undercover sting, Barry meets with a woman with whom he previously had an affair, and done crack more than 100 times, she said. They banter about their frequent drug use together for a half an hour, along these lines:

''So what do you want to do?'' Ms. Moore asks several times, without using direct questions about drugs.

The mayor, unaware that she is secretly working with the police and is prepared to supply him with drugs, says he wants to have sex.

Ms. Moore fends him off after he makes several advances. Mr. Barry then asks about a woman, identified as Wanda, who was briefly in the hotel room at the time he arrived.

''Your friend mess around?'' he asks.

''She toots more than she'll do anything else,'' Ms. Moore replies, using the drug term for snorting powdered cocaine.

Only after his efforts to have sex are repeatedly rejected does Barry resign himself to smoking crack:

The Mayor picks up the pipe, raises it to his mouth and lights it. He takes a long drag and holds the smoke. Then he repeats the process. Ms. Moore moves back into the camera's view. ''You don't want to take another one?'' she asks.

''No, you're crazy,'' the Mayor replies. ''Let's go downstairs and meet your friend.'' There is a loud noise. ''Police!'' a voice cries out.

We thus have on tape proof positive that, for an experienced crack user, even after he has begun smoking the drug, sex remains by far the dominant motivation.

In my write-up with Bruce and his colleagues of his classic Rat Park experiments, I note Bruce's point that a frequent occupation of the rats when they are together in Rat Park (as opposed to when alone in a confining, isolated cage) is having sex.

Rat Park demonstrated that when they are offered a morphine solution in a spacious environment where rats of the opposite gender are available, even after being habituated to the morphine in a cage, the rats choose water over the opiate.

Why is that, do you think?

Initially, published in a minor journal, Rat Park drew little attention. But Bruce's experiments drew me to him immediately (we remain good friends+), since they supported my own minority viewpoint that drugs are, by far, the secondary components in addiction (as was also demonstrated by heroin use in Vietnam).

I made Rat Park a strong focus in my 1985 book, The Meaning of Addiction, in a chapter I co-authored with Bruce and his colleagues, along with Archie Brodsky. In his own writing, Bruce offers a socioeconomic interpretation of his work. In Meaning, I/we propounded the view that it was because opiates lowered both the animals' sex drive and their ability to compete with other rats of their gender for sex that they eschewed the drug. And this was true for both genders—thus discounting my choice of words in the title.

So, from Rat Park to the halls of power in Washington DC, we see that drugs don't hold a candle to sex. And if you review your own drug and sex experiences, I'm sure you'll come to a similar conclusion.

*Barry was still serving on the District of Columbia Council at his death.

+Bruce always attends and supports my lectures and workshops in Vancouver, where we spent quality time together last winter during my fiasco of a meeting with Gabor Maté.

Listen to Stanton's interview with Drug Policy Alliance, "Reconsidering Addiction and Addiction Treatment."

Stanton Peele, a columnist for, has been at the cutting-edge of addiction theory and practice, including uncovering natural recovery, identifying addiction as being not essentially linked to drugs, and focusing on social forces and individual choice in addiction since writing (with Archie Brodsky) Love and Addiction in 1975. He has since written numerous other books and developed the online Life Process Program. His latest book, with Ilse Thompson, is Recover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict. His website is