January 4, 2008

Breaking The Addiction

An article has been making its way around the internet over the past few days which I find interesting on many levels. Apparently some researchers at Baylor College in Houston are working on a vaccine which may help to cure cocaine addiction. If this turns out to be successful, this could be a great boon to those who truly would like to break the drug habit, but it would also raise a few questions.

Let's address the positives of the completion of this vaccine first. There is, obviously, the ability of health professionals to be able to help those who struggle with a cocaine addiction. According to one study, around 1/5 of women and 1/3 of men treated for drug addictions relapsed within six months of their treatment. The use of this vaccine could reduce those numbers to almost zero, as the use of cocaine after being treated with this vaccine would have no effect.

Another positive aspect of this vaccine would be the ability to prevent a cocaine addiction before it even occurs. So we have not only curative aspects but also preventative aspects to consider. If you know that you are a person who is prone to addiction, you would be able to take a step which would help prevent you from falling into a dangerous dependency in the future.

Interestingly enough, it is the preventative benefit of this vaccine which raises the most interesting questions. A cocaine vaccine doesn't really provide the best subject for discussion, though, as it is almost universally considered to be "bad" since there are a plethora of health problems which accompany its use, not to mention the whole legality issue. So in the interest of argument and as a thought experiment, lets assume that scientists have invented an alcohol vaccine. This vaccine would have the same effects as the cocaine vaccine, both curative and preventative.

Would you give your kids this vaccine? What if alcoholism runs in your family? Do you give your child this vaccine in order to prevent the possible destruction of their lives in the future? What if drinking alcohol is against your religion? Do you vaccinate your child in order to remove a spiritual temptation from their lives?

Basically, what I think this comes down to is the removal of choice from someone's life. You are making a personal/moral decision for a person and basically forcing them down a certain path in life. Yes, alcoholism may run in your family, but your child may be able to be responsible in their drinking and never have a problem with it. Yes, alcohol may be against your religion, but is removing the temptation altogether really a good thing? You may be reducing the spiritual growth of your child that would come from being confronted with a situation where they could drink but choose not to. For that matter, if drinking alcohol has no intoxicating effects, is there any reason for it to be against your religion anymore? It's these kinds of questions that I find fascinating, and I don't think that there is an easy answer here.

Personally, I don't think that I would give the vaccine to my kid, either in the case of alcohol or cocaine. (As a side note, I would like to point out that I see the choice of giving your child this vaccine as very different from choosing his/her eye color or the removal of a genetic predisposition to a disease prior to his/her birth, as these are not things a person would be able to change during their lifetime anyway.) I don't think it is my place to make that kind of decision for my child. I think that they have the right to make their own choices, even if those choices end up being costly mistakes. Making that kind of decision is part of the human experience and how we learn and grow as people, and I would not presume to force my particular sentiments on such a matter onto my child in such a permanent way. I think that the act of making such decisions is sacred and an integral part of one's individuality. I don't think that I could take something like that from my child, even if it may be in what I think is their best interest.

Random Parting Thought:
That girl in the DLP "It's the mirrors" commericals creeps me right out.


Courtney said...

To my knowledge, there is no alcohol "vaccine" but there is something that produces a similar effect - Disulfram (brand name Antabuse) is an alcohol dehydrogenase inhibitor, which causes a buildup of acetaldehyde in the blood stream and produces severe hangover effects within 30 minutes of any alcohol consumption. The problem with that, which a vaccine-like treatment would solve, is if an alcoholic has a psychological need to drink, why would they take something in the morning that is going to make them feel like absolute hell later in the day if they drink, when they could just skip the pill any time they wanted to?

Matt Silverthorn said...

That doesn't seem like a product that would have much success as something that needs to be taken regularly on a voluntary basis. Maybe if your spouse or significant other made you take it or something.

Courtney said...

Or, sadly enough, your parents.