The point is, of course, that drugs are uncontrollably addictive (aside from alcohol, which is legal and therefore harmless). You've all read that one study: When rats are given the choice between cocaine and food, they will continuously choose cocaine over food until they literally starve to death.
Crack and heroin (and actually anything that makes your brain function differently) are bad for you. Obviously. But they're not unstoppable Addiction Terminators: Between 80 and 90 percent of the people who use meth and crack never get addicted. Human beings aren't such fragile little snowflakes that exposure to a single "good feeling" chemical can immediately wreck their lives. As a species, we're actually pretty tough.
I mean, we've kinda made this planet our b***h.
So what's the deal with that study with the rats? Bad science, basically: The rats in that study were kept isolated and denied stimulation. Their whole world was a little tube with drugs and food in it, and they were going for the drugs because they were bored out of their tiny rat minds. If you let the rats run around, have sex with each other, and play the rat equivalent of touch football, their drug use plummeted.
And it's the same with people: A guy named Dr. Carl Hart became something of a crack Santa Claus when he invited a bunch of junkies to smoke medical-grade crack (a thing that exists, apparently) in a hospital. Every morning, he'd give them a free (large or small) dose of crack, and then give them a choice periodically throughout the day: either the same dose of crack again, or $5. If the initial dose was small, the subjects would choose the five bucks -- and remember, these guys were already addicted to crack when they came in. The stereotypical movie-version addict would've been offering to fellate everything in the room for even the tiniest taste, but the real-life version decided that they weren't getting a solid high, so an afternoon with a pinball machine (or whatever) seemed like a better option. They made the "economical decision."
"Plus the shakes give me the perfect amount of bump without getting a tilt."
The reason we keep hearing about drugs as some monster that's eating neighborhoods alive, rather than a symptom of a far more complicated problem, is money: Hart says that it's harder to market studies that say "Well, this all comes back to wealth disparity and social pressure." You can't make a melodramatic PSA about systemic poverty and problems with our mental health care system.
Again, don't take this as me saying "Go do hard drugs, you'll be fine," because you won't be. A lot of people are spending their lives at the bottom of dark s**t pits, and drugs are helping to keep them there. But in a lot of cases, drugs didn't actually dig that hole. We should probably be focusing on what did.
JF Sargent would like to thank Carmen Burana for providing extra research on the Milgram experiment. He's also writing a sci-fi adventure story you can read for free! And he does the Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr thing. Pretty much the only thing he won't do is shut up.
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