“Intellectualization of Drug Abuse”

The following article is found in the latest Journal of the American Medical Association. It was written by Clinton B. McCracken, PhD Baltimore, Maryland, clinton.mccracken1@gmail.com

Health care professionals and physicians in particular have rates of substance abuse that are equal to and often exceed those observed in the general public.1-2 These estimates may even be low, as many studies rely on self-reported data. Health care professionals presumably use drugs for many of the same reasons as those of the general population. Nonetheless, given the intelligence, years of education, and high levels of achievement found in this group, the relatively high incidence of substance abuse may be somewhat surprising. Ease of access to drugs is commonly cited, particularly with respect to the high rates of drug abuse among anesthesiologists3; however, given the complex nature of addiction, the underlying causes are assuredly myriad.

One possible contributing factor that may receive insufficient attention is the ability of highly educated professionals to intellectualize their drug use, minimizing in their mind the potential disastrous consequences, both personal (eg, the possibility of death or serious harm due to factors such as overdose or toxicity, among others) and professional (ranging from a tarnished reputation to a ruined career). This intellectualization is particularly insidious because due to its very nature, it prevents the person from realizing the scope of the problem, or even admitting a problem exists. Thus, it is related to, yet distinct from, the phenomena of rationalization and denial. Rationalization and denial are universal components of substance abuse and unaffected by education or training.4-5 By contrast, intellectualization actually relies on advanced education and training, particularly with respect to the effects of drugs and addiction, also incorporating confidence in one’s intelligence and abilities, and no small measure of arrogance, to provide the illusion of control or mastery. The end result of this intellectualization is the manifestation of hubris that produces blindness to the devastating consequences of drug abuse and addiction.

Here, I draw on my experience as a drug abuser who for years maintained a relatively successful career as a basic biomedical scientist studying the neuroscience of addiction and compulsion to present a cautionary tale regarding the extreme dangers of intellectualizing drug use. No matter how well versed one may be in pharmacology or the addictive process, the fact remains that severe problems due to drug abuse can arise almost instantly, and no matter how in control one may believe himself to be, these problems can lead to tragic and irreversibly life-altering consequences.

To read the full article please read the following PDF Intellectualization of Drug Abuse

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2 Responses to “Intellectualization of Drug Abuse”

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