Neuroscientist 'From The Hood' Debunks A Huge Myth About Drug Addiction

"This is not how I expected to solve the drug addiction problem."

In June 2012, a study by published by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found a harrowing statistic: only 1 and 10 people facing addiction receive science-based care that actually works. Not only do "treatment programs" in the U.S. fail to treat addicts, but the rehabilitation system in general, the one that favors incarceration over rehabilitation, doesn't seem to work, either. It's clear when you look at the numbers: As of 2010, drug offenders accounted for one-fourth of inmates with 95 percent returning to their addiction after prison. 

What gives?

The rhetoric (and treatment programs) surrounding addiction usually points toward the drug itself, and it's addictiveness, as the crux of the problem. But Carl Hart, an associate Professor of psychiatry and psychology at Columbia University who says he came "from the hood," revealed in a TEDxTalk last year, that this isn't necessarily the case.

"I fully thought that crime and poverty in my community was the direct result of crack cocaine," he told his audience. "So in 1986 when congress passed laws punishes crack cocaine violations ... I thought it was appropriate."

But his research has him thinking differently and how he views drugs in the crime/poverty cycle. In fact, he asserts the drugs aren't the sole issue of the problem. It's something else — and he came to understanding this by busting that myth.

He explains: 

"There is no drug in which the user uses one time and becomes addicted. In fact, 80 to 90 percent of people who use illegal drugs are not addicts."

This revelation caused him to redirect his focus. If not all users were addicts, then what caused those in poverty to be more likely to become one?

That led Hart to then conduct a study on two groups of diagnosed addicts, cocaine and meth to see if the "addicts" still chose the drug if presented with a more enticing option, such as money. 

"The crack cocaine users chose to take drugs on half of the occasions and take money on the other half of the occasions."

"We next raised the cash reward to $20, when $20 was the next alternative, the meth users almost never took the drug."

The idea? Drug addiction doesn't cause poverty and crime. Poverty and crime enables drug addiction and the the two are independent of each other. But drugs, crime and poverty intertwine when those who are incarcerated most (minorities in poverty) don't get the rehabilitation they need. And so the cycle continues. 

Despite the fact that cocaine in two different forms causes the same amount of addiction, drug laws that unfairly target the "most addictive" forms more severely punish the minorities that use them.

More than 80 percent of the people convicted under these laws are Black despite that fact that most users of cocaine, in general, are White. 

Ultimately, the way we're looking at addiction is all wrong. And Hart is trying to have that change.

"It's not drug addiction causing people to commit crime, it's other factors," he says.

"The real problems are poverty, unemployment, selective drug law enforcement, ignorance and the dismissal of science surrounding these drugs."