By Stephen Mason, Ph.D. on March 14, 2009 - 11:04am in Look At It This Way
A major misconception involving addiction is the idea that certain substances are, all by themselves, addicting. That a drug can captivate an unwary victim is an idea popularized in the 1936 film Reefer Madness. In that movie, it took just a few puffs of marijuana to turn a gentleman into a slobbering dope fiend; his health shattered; his life ruined. While such heavy-handed propaganda might be met with less credulity today, the fact remains that most Americans still believe the basic message - Just Say No or you'll wind up hooked. What makes this truly odd is that, according to numerous national surveys, most Americans have tried marijuana and didn't become dope fiends. Indeed, several years ago, a group of US congressmen attempted to come forward, admit their prior pot use and put an end to a draconian system that confiscates property and puts people in prison for years. But the electorate clearly wasn't ready for any such reappraisal of the drug laws and the movement quickly died.
But how is it, you ask, that all those congressmen that were candid about their drug use didn't get hooked Reefer Madness style? The reason is because addiction depends, first and foremost, upon having an addictive personality. Such people, estimated at perhaps 10%-15% of the population, simply don't know when to stop. Do you enjoy a glass or two of wine with dinner? If so, why not have ten or twenty? Did you ever buy a lottery ticket on your birthday? If so, why not sell your house and buy 100,000? How about going to church on Sunday? Does it make you feel good? If so, why not go every day twice a day? The point here is simple: Too much of a good thing can be bad. And yet people with addictive personalities will get hooked on alcohol and gambling and religion. Believe it or not, being addicted is nothing more than an out-of-control habit. The difference between that 10%-15% and everyone else is the difference between using and abusing.
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