Saturday, January 26, 2008
Regulating Vice: Chapter 2, "Addiction: Rational and Otherwise" (part IV)
When last we left off in our tortuous journey through the surprise bestseller Regulating Vice, we were nearing the end of Chapter 2's exploration of addiction. There's a short section entitled "Comparative Addictiveness," that explores such claims as "heroin is more addictive than alcohol." Is it? Probably depends on who the consumer is, the mode of ingestion, the social setting: Zinberg's Drug, Set, and Setting, yet again. (Comparative addictiveness even depends on the regulatory structure facing the various vices.) Nevertheless, ice cream is probably more addictive than spinach, and there are methods of trying to formalize such commonsense notions. One method is to ask what percentage of casual users of a drug go on to become habitual users; a second is to try to gauge the difficulty of quitting an acquired habit.
It is probably the case that for formulating desirable policy, dangerousness is more important than addictiveness. Most people think of caffeine as rather addictive, but not as particularly harmful. What is most striking about typical rankings of dangerousness is how poorly they map onto existing public policy, however. In particular, marijuana and many hallucinogens do not appear to be all that dangerous, but they face prohibitions. Alcohol and tobacco are more dangerous, and quite legal.