throwback thursday

Throwback Thursday: Reflection on “The Value of Drug Addiction Research by Michael Nader”

Our behavioral pharmacology class ended  with a discussion of drug addiction and treatment. In this  Tedx Talk, Dr. Michael Nader from Wake Forest University discusses three facets of tackling drug addiction: how should efforts to reduce drug use be directed? Should drug addiction be viewed as a brain disease, requiring treatment? And is animal research critical for researching new treatments for addiction?

The first major issue Dr. Nader discussed was the question of how funds and efforts are allocated for fighting drug use and addiction. Dr. Nader groups these efforts into two broad categories: those which tackle supply reduction (ie. law enforcement, border patrol, interdiction efforts, criminalization etc.) and those which tackle demand reduction (ie. drug abuse prevention, addiction treatment, education programs, etc.). Dr. Nader explains that a majority of funds are allocated to supply reduction. However, data shows that increased legal punishments have little deterrent effect on drug use, and despite large amounts of money being put into interdiction and international efforts, there is still an influx of supply into the United States. 

Demand efforts have comparatively little funds allocated to them. While, as we discussed  in class, education programs such as D.A.R.E have little long-term benefit and reduction in drug use, drug treatment programs, despite low success rates, are extremely useful to addicts and to the community. With more funding, treatment options would improve as research  could be funded for more effective prevention, treatment, and harm reduction programs. Given that supply reductions have been proven minimally effective, it may be time to devote more resources to demand reduction; other than pouring funds into keeping drug users and addicts in prison, funds should be used for treatment, research and harm reduction which has more tangible benefits to society and to addicts themselves.  Methadone treatment for heroin users is extremely successful and drastically reduces the cost to society compared to heroin addiction.

The second major question addressed by Dr. Nader’s talk is the framework by which drug  addiction is viewed. Dr. Nader, and our class at large, follows the model of viewing drug addiction as a brain disease. Drug addiction might be best approached as a brain disease, because it gives a framework to address the problem of drug addiction with a medical lens, similar to the medical model of mental illness at large. While the model isn’t perfect, there is no perfect alternative, and the model gives a common definition and a point of action to address the problem. 

For drug addiction, there is no good alternative to viewing it as a brain disease. The most prevalent past view of drug addiction as moral failing simply is not helpful – not to drug addicts, not to society, and not to policy makers. Approaching  addiction as brain disease allows for a perspective focused on treatment rather than of incarceration and punishment, which as Dr. Nader remarks, has proven to be an extremely ineffective deterrent in the history of the United States’ “War On Drugs”, which pushed for heavy  punishments and long incarceration periods for drug users, largely with racial motivations. Looking at addiction as a brain disease gives a more person-focused view than alternatives. 

As mentioned in class, less than half of all individuals who receive treatment for drug addiction are “cured”;  the majority relapse. However, with more research, more targeted and specific treatment options would become available, hopefully with an improved success rate. Dr. Nader’s example is treatment options based on even down to specific phenotypes and genetic markers to specifically account for individual differences.

The last subject Dr. Nader’s talk tackles animal research. While neither the Tedx Talk nor our class do a deep drive into the  controversial ethics of animal research, it is largely accepted in the scientific community that animal research is a fundamentally invaluable tool. Animal research is critical, particularly for drugs and addiction because they are the best way to model human behavioral and physiological reactions. By conducting research on animals, researchers get a better sense of how humans may respond to treatments, which can eventually save lives. 

Dr. Nader speaks specifically about using primates for clinical research, and whilst it is true that primates are extremely useful for drug and other clinical research because they are the closest clinical analogue for human responses and side effects, I do not see primate research as critical for drug  addiction research. Because primate research is such a moral grey-area, more so than animal research in general,  I believe primates should only be used in extreme circumstances, if  every other option has been exhausted. Currently, rodents prove an effective model for drug  research, as shown firsthand  by  our experiments in the lab, and thus I see no critical need for primate research, even if animal research is critical to save human lives. 

The purpose here was to discuss three key issues related to drugs and behavior. Fundamentally, the reason to study drugs and behavior  is not to simply know how drugs affect behavior, but to understand why and how people use and are affected by drugs, so that by understanding we can better help them. This can come in many forms: medicine, research, policy making, education, budget reform, legislation and likely other areas as well. It is not only about the science itself, it is about the human condition, and bringing the understanding we learn now with us into whatever positions we take after Davidson. 


The Value of Drug Addiction Research: Michael Nader at TEDxWakeForestU. (2013). Retrieved from

4 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: Reflection on “The Value of Drug Addiction Research by Michael Nader””

  1. I teach high school (religious studies, specifically) and I am often surprised by how many of my students still view addiction as a “choice” or a “moral failing,” as you put it here. Whenever it comes up, it’s a teachable moment which leads to a larger conversation about the realities of addiction and I’m thankful for those conversations. However, it always saddens me that our larger default societal narratives around addiction are still so flawed in what they teach. With that being said, reading your piece made me very happy – in both it’s rich detail and because it exists, here on the internet, where anyone can stumble upon it, thus helping shift the narrative around addiction in a more positive, accurate way a little more. Thank you for that :).

    Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s great and I love that you took your college writing and gave it a home here on your blog, too. Just the other day I was thinking of a paper I wrote during undergrad where I analyzed Ian McEwan’s ‘Atonement’ and I was so proud of the paper…and now I’m not sure where it is. It would’ve loved to have preserved some of my work on a blog of mine.


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