November 14, 2013

Bulimic alcoholics coming soon from drugs as salvific technologism

That phrase "salvific technologism" is one I invented a long time ago as a blog tag.

A longer explanation? It's the belief, usually associated with avowed futurists, that technology will always be the cavalry riding over the hill with the "salvation" of improvement for the future life, lifestyle and flourishing of homo sapiens.

It's a belief I reject.

And, here's the latest nuttery in this area, courtesy of this new story in Britain's The Independent newspaper.

Let's start here:
Scientists are developing a drug which mimics all the positive effects of being drunk without any of the health risks, addiction – or hangovers.
And then ask how realistic that is. In my opinion, as the rest of the story demonstrates, not a lot. And, it leads to the rhetorical question of my headline.

We go next to this:
The “serious revolution in health” is being pioneered by the former Government drugs advisor Professor David Nutt, and has been described as doing for alcohol what the e-cigarette has done for tobacco use.
Uhh, wrong right there! As far as his claims about this new drug, the analogy is wrong, because the verdict is still out, to a fair extent, on the e-cig. (Apologies to any e-cig users reading this.) A Google search of "e-cigarette" + "dangers" gets more than 7 million hits. Those include the fact that e-cigs have their own toxic vapors and have not been proven to help people quit cigarettes, as noted in this story.

I think the story of the e-cigarette's alleged benefits is even more bullshitting than Big Tobacco's pre-1964 stance on the alleged benefits of cigarettes themselves. I'll stop there before I get even more wound up.

Meanwhile, back to our story at hand, now that we know our good professor is wrong about e-cigs and we know to be skeptical.

Here's where my "bulimic alcoholics" angle comes in:
It targets neurotransmitters in the brain directly, giving the taker feelings of pleasure and disinhibition that are in some cases “indistinguishable” from the effects of drinking. Yet because it acts directly, it can also be immediately blocked by taking an antidote – with “drinkers” potentially able to then drive or return to work straight away.
So, get "drunk" for an hour, take the "antidote" (interesting that its called that), then get "drunk" again. Lather, rinse, repeat!

Beyond that, this is a simplistic, 20th-century view of neurotransmitters. The "one neurotransmitter creates one constellation of results" idea is almost as simplistic as "one gene codes for one protein" in molecular biology.

Finally, the good ex-drugs adviser has not a clue, it seems, about the mental and psychological components of addiction. His whole conception of why alcoholics drink to addiction totally ignores that, so the idea that this will stop alcohol addiction is pure nonsense. Per the "bulimic alcoholic" comment, so, someone gets drunk for four hours, takes a pill, and starts getting drunk again. Like one of Nero's vomitoriums for food bulimics. With "friends" like this, alcoholics sure don't need more enemies, I wouldn't think. In short, I don't think this will prevent people who are subconsciously determined to do so from going down the road of addiction. I'm no fan of AA in general, but currently, there isn't an "easier, softer road" to get out of addiction, and especially for people who are predisposed by prior life history and psychology toward becoming addicted to alcohol, or other drugs, this won't stop that, either.

Next, along the line of him misrating the health value of e-cigs, what if he's misrating the health value of this? If somebody finds out, "Hey, if I grind and snort these babies, I can hallucinate" or something, then even minimal health value is out the window.

But, wait. Maybe if it can't help alcoholics get sober, can it at least do harm reduction for them? Or prevent a non-alcoholic drunk from an auto accident or something?

I'll agree with accepting whatever "harm reduction" it can do. That said, at at least the current level of pharmaceuticals capability AND the current level of what we actually know about the brain, vs what Pop Neuroscience tells us, no pill is going to instantly "un-drunk" anybody. Nor will it produce the exact effects of alcohol otherwise. And, I'll venture it can't come close to that without causing some psychological dependency effects. Beyond that, even current anti-craving drugs like naltrexone are nowhere near a sure shot for stopping cravings.

If you've been drinking too much, and don't want to have a wreck, call a cab. That's your best advice for today, and for 20 years from now.

And, for that reason, he's also spinning a conspiracy theory, I think. After all, Big Tobacco's given a cautious eye at investing in e-cigarette makers, even while their market remains tiny. And, that's the flip side. The market for a pill like this, for all the reasons I mentioned above and more (hard to put this pill in a college beer bong, especially an anal one) will remain tiny.

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