Modern Monetary Theory and Addiction

I was in a debate this morning on twitter about the validity of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT – not to be confused with Methadone Maintenance Therapy in this post), but ran into problems with the 140 character limit. For those of you who don’t know, MMT is a theory based on government’s monopoly of excreting fiat currency as a basis for an economy. Basically MMT says that money is what the government says it is. If the government wanted us to pay our taxes in chocolate, we’d use chocolate for money. But the government wants Federal Reserve Notes (or their bank deposit equivalents) and so that’s what we use as money. It’s a compelling theory that fits the facts of our lives today and has gotten a lot of followers lately.

The point I was trying to make in my twitter debate was that the flaw of MMT, the thing that makes it not something to base long term predictions on, is its original assumption. That assumption, that money is money because the government says it is, might be true today in America, but it isn’t always true. In fact, it isn’t even true most of the time in most places in our history.

The word money comes from Jupiter Moneta, a temple at the center of Rome which was used as a mint. The ancients saw money as part of the natural world. It was a gift of the gods like trees, rivers, and thunder. You could use it, you could modify it, but you could not have total dominion over it. And you certainly could never forget its natural power. Greek myths are replete with examples of mortals who, in their hubris, denied the power of nature. Man can control nature to an extent, but as soon as he thinks he has it licked it’s game over.

Money is money because several billion interdependent economic actors all making decisions about what is best for them bring about its emergence. Money is an emergent property of a complex natural system. There have been many forms of money over many thousands of years, many governments that went along with them, and many governments that tried to deny money’s emergent nature. So my point about MMT was that money isn’t money because the government says it is, at least not always and in all circumstances, and when governments forget money’s natural force, it’s game over.

So what does this have to do with addiction? Addiction is an illness, a natural phenomenon. It emerges from nature because of forces that aren’t in our control as individuals or as a professional field. We can treat addiction, we can effect addiction, we can modify addiction, and, perhaps, one day we can cure addiction, but we can’t do anything effective over the long haul if we forget its natural power or its natural origin. There are some in our field, in fact it may be the majority, that believe addiction isn’t a natural illness. Some think it’s only the result of other illnesses; some think it’s the result of psychological trauma; some think it’s the result of learning and thinking; some see it as a natural consequence of certain personality types. But what only a minority actually see, is that addiction is a natural illness. It exists in nature, and would, with or without modern drugs. The symptoms, the natural history, the course, are all unchanged from that described in history. What’s changed is modern drugs, but those are epiphenomena, much like central banks are to money. They may look like they are driving the train now, but this train has been going along long before they got here, and probably will long after they are gone.

Author: AddictionDoctor

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  1. Is addiction an illness due to genes, DNA?


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    • Curt,
      Yes. Primarily addiction isn’t limited to drugs and alcohol; it can involve anything that increases the spike at the brain’s reward center. What gives us low tone at that spot or a hightened spike is mostly our genetics. There are environmental influences, but even these occur before the first drug. If something you read here doesn’t make sense or doesn’t seem right, please write to tell me.

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  2. Dr. W,
    I am 46, a female, an alcoholic and recently diagnosed with ADD. From what I understand, both are inherited genetically. I am learning about the connection between the two. I’d have never thought ADD. Don’t people with that use cocaine?

    My psychiatrist has put me on a stimulant, which I was weary about. I had the notion that was not the direction that works for me. I do depressants, right? Wrong, I feel fabulous or what I guess normal is.

    It seems though that doctors, not mine, are hesitant or simply will not, rx Adderall or drugs in the same class, to patients with abuse disorders. A note on your post about abstinence, if I am in a state of surrender and am taking meds as rx then where is the problem?

    Your thoughts on any of my thoughts are appreciated.

    Thank you,

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    • Beth,
      I often use medications in treating people with addiction, but from my point of view, the biology of ADD (low midbrain dopamine) and the biology of addiction (low midbrain dopamine) are the same. Good addiction medical care should remove the symptoms of both of what psychiatrists call alcohol dependence and ADD. As to alcohol being a downer, it is, for type I people, but they are only about 15% of the people I meet with addiction. For the rest, alcohol causes the release of dopamine through its action on the mu opioid receptor. So it is stimulating (but has a mixed profile because of the GABA properties). People only feel a benefit from cocaine if they already have good dopamine release. So, because people can have low midbrain dopamine tone for many different reasons, people with the same set of symptoms will respond to different drugs in addiction and different medications in treatment depending on WHY they have the lowered tone.
      I’ll add that I personally don’t favor amphetamines for people with addiction, not because I don’t want them to feel better, but because we can do it more safely. Amphetamines run the reuptake pump in reverse so, unless you are only treated part of the day, you can end up depleting the dopamine system over time. If you do get treated only part of the day then the midbrain experienced ups and downs which is not a good thing – we all know our brains are capable of finding what we need to feel better fast. The downs can produce cravings, so it’s much better to use medicines that are more specific to why the person has lowered dopamine tone. That’s one reason we use genetic testing.
      Thanks for writing,

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