Recently, I read an article in the Los Angeles Times titled “New Gene Therapy for Smoking Kills the Pleasure of Nicotine!” Apparently, scientists at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City have developed an antibody producing gene that traps nicotine and prevents it from reaching the brain thereby eliminating the pleasurable, addictive effects of smoking. As a result of this breakthrough, researchers intend to produce a vaccine that can be administered to people who either want to quit smoking or are worried about getting addicted in the future. While this vaccine is still in preliminary stages, it may not be long before it’s available to the public.
Nicotine gene therapy is based on the premise that folks become addicted to smoking because of the pleasure principle. In essence, when nicotine is used, the brains limbic system releases dopamine, a chemical that makes people feel good. Since people, by nature, like to feel good, the behavior is generally repeated. According to proponents of the addiction disease concept, it is this reaction that reinforces a pattern of addictive behavior. Therefore, if you deny someone the pleasurable experience of smoking by blocking nicotine from receptors in the brain, the addiction will be eliminated.
I vehemently disagree! Even if the proposed vaccine performs as promised, there’s a major problem with this theory. First, addicted folks do not use substances or compulsions in self-destructive fashion merely to derive pleasure. They do so to manage, or escape from, anxiety, depression and/or emotional distress. I have proven this not just in theory but in practice as well. In the case of nicotine, anxiety is usually the primary driver. But, for argument’s sake, let’s assume that the gene therapy drug does effectively trap nicotine, prevents it from reaching receptors in the brain, and renders the effects unpleasant.
What about the anxiety or primary driver? Have the researchers overlooked the most important point? In my opinion, they have! If anxiety and unresolved emotional issues are still present so is the desire to abuse substances and compulsions. If they remove one escape hatch, what makes them think that the addicted will not find another? This happens all the time in conventional treatment.
This phenomenon is commonly known as a behavioral transference. For example, most folks who participate in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) eliminate alcohol abuse and become addicted to religion, antidepressants or even AA itself. So, take away someone’s nicotine, anxiety fix, and perhaps they’ll discover alcohol. Give them a gene therapy vaccine for alcohol addiction, and maybe they’ll find cocaine. Administer a vaccine for cocaine addiction, and they might adopt sexual or gambling addictions. Get the point? Gene therapy vaccines, or any other drug for that matter, will not solve addiction. Drugs only suppress the issues and redirect them. Addiction is an emotional and spiritual issue. And, if one hopes to overcome addiction, they must address the issues accordingly.