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Drugs and Ph.D.

Drugs and Ph.D.

So I went to this talk of Marc Lewis, a now retired psychology professor. It was about why addiction is not a “brain disease”, even though many “healing-oriented” parties passionately claim it is. Their agenda is obvious: the “disease” part is crucial in the selling-a-cure schem.

Lewis made some good points in his talk, referred to scientific evidence to back up these points, and provided reasonable arguments for his position. Drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, gambling, sex, chocolate, shopping even, overdoing any of these will stimulate the same zones in our brain. Like your lover, drugs can make you feel genuinely high at first and really sick afterwards. But these are no signs of disease. Lewis was a junkie himself 30 years ago, which gave a personal touch to this talk. The fact that this professor used to be an addict seemed irrelevant to me. An expert on addiction doesn’t have to be an addict himself, right? As for the addict, it is more of Nike’s motto, “Just-do-it”. That’s about it. So, Lewis’ interview in the Observant, which introduced him as “ex-junkie Marc Lewis…” struck me as irritating noise.  However, during the talk, and even more during the debate that followed, I saw that this “ex-junkie” quality lubricated every argument Lewis was making. This personal touch made his talk more interesting, fun, and easy to follow, but became annoying during the debate, distracting from scientific discussion and landing straight into the I-personally-agree/disagree/agree-to-disagree sort of quasi-conversation. At the beginning, my impression was that I was listening to a professor who used to be a junkie, but he then gradually switched to a role of an ex-junkie who just happens to be a professor. I guess junkies sell more books than academics.

Looking back, I think the main message was a story of success, and don’t we all love them? An underdog struggled and succeeded, and that’s nice and inspiring to see. I have to admit that I was searching to find any devastating symptoms of his intense drug experience, but I couldn’t see any. Except one. His thoughts, his mannerisms, charm, and humor were intact. But the sentence “I quit drugs and decided to do something that makes me happya Ph.D.” was a true reflection of questionable sanity. We all know that the trick is trying to be happy in spite of the Ph.D. So, kids, avoid drugs - they make people say nonsense.

Irena Boskovic, PhD candidate at Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience

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