Further Reading

What about a vaccine for addiction?

Dear Dr. Peele:

I searched your website, but I didn't find any information about vaccines against drug addiction. For example, here is an article about an anti-cocaine vaccine being developed at my alma mater:


It seems to me that this is a very promising approach — stop drug-taking behavior by eliminating the pleasurable component. It's kind of like Antabuse, but not as extreme.

I'd be interesting in finding out your opinion on the matter.

Sincerely yours,

Dear Alex:

Wouldn't someone just go elsewhere for these same effects that they seek in cocaine? People switch from heroin to alcohol and vice versa, or abuse many drug simultaneously as a matter of course. Consider that methadone therapy is based on the exact opposite philosophy from a vaccine — the idea there is, let's give the person the same experience, but in a less dangerous form (i.e., one less debilitating or likely to allow the person to get "high"). The concept is that, for whatever reason, the person will be seeking this experience one place or another, and therapy requires that we provide it in some form. I don't believe this exactly, but I do believe that it requires life changes and particularly the ability to gain — and to accept — comparably gratifying experiences through ordinary life activities in order for people to escape the allure of addictive experiences.


Yes, that's a good point. I hadn't thought of that.

However, I seem to recall that in one of your books (I can't remember which one — it's been a while since I read them) you argued against that notion that people who are addicted to one substance should give up using other chemicals which are not being abused. So, for instance, a cocaine addict who is a social drinker shouldn't have to give up alcohol when he tries to quit cocaine.

Am I mis-remembering your argument? If not, isn't there a contradiction here somewhere?


Okay, Alex, you get an "A" for paying attention. I would say that some addicts seek specific experiences. For example, cocaine produces excitation, which alcohol produces a depressive experience, and some people seek one experience rather than the other. If they are not inclined to be addicted to one of these experiences (and some people only show addictive tendencies towards one TYPE of drug), they will nonetheless seek that experience elsewhere when it is denied to them when it is readily available through another substance. Thus, alcohol and narcotics often produce cross tolerance, even though they operate through very different brain receptors, because they offer experiential equivalencies. Likewise, even experienced cocaine users can be fooled when amphetamines are substituted for cocaine. And, as these examples indicate, there are generally readily available chemical substitutes for most popular drugs.