In Defense of Drug Dealers: The Pusher Myth

Posted: May 23rd, 2012 | Filed under: addiction, cocaine, drugs, media bias | 5 Comments »

Drug Pusher Myth

In the late ’00s I was friends with a cocaine dealer. Everyone I knew thought he was a great guy.

Since we were in the same social circle, I was also acquainted with dozens of his customers. Only one of them arguably had a cocaine problem, and he was not an out-of-control addict.* His friends merely thought he used cocaine too often and spent too much money on it. Cocaine’s interference with this customer’s job was minimal. It was certainly not any more of a hindrance than his periodic binge drinking.

I once asked the dealer about dealing with addicts. He said he refused to sell to them. Out-of-control users were a nuisance. They would come to his place at odd hours unannounced and could be obnoxious and loud. Dealing with these people was dangerous because he wanted to stay as covert as possible to avoid police attention.

The Myth

One of the countless myths underpinning the drug war is that drug dealers “push” drugs on people. This is an asinine stereotype for a couple reasons. First, due to criminalization demand almost always outweighs supply. There is no need for dealers to aggressively sell their product. As the comedian Chris Rock has said:

Drugs sell themselves. It’s crack. It’s not an encyclopedia. It’s not a fucking vacuum cleaner. You don’t really gotta try to sell crack, OK? I’ve never heard a crack dealer go, “Man, how am I going to get rid of all this crack? It’s just piled up in my house.” (6)

(For more of Chris Rock’s opinions on drug dealing go here.)

Second, drug dealing is an illegal activity. Dealers do not want to pester non-drug users for fear that they might report them to the police. Dealers are more wary of their clients than their clients are of them. This reluctance is particularly true for pushing drugs on children. Contrary to their demonic portrayal in the media, dealers are not evil and many of them do not think drugs are appropriate for kids. Also, it would be a stupid risk to take considering most children have guardians watching them and scant income.

When I worked as a public defender, I asked several of my colleagues with decades of experience if they had ever seen a drug dealer prosecuted for selling to a juvenile under the harsh school-zone mandatory-minimum sentencing guidelines. None of them had ever heard of it happening. It was frequently police officers baiting dealers into selling to adults in a school zone or adult deals going down at the periphery of one. Because the zone extended over three football fields from any school land, one of my marijuana-dealing clients did not even know he was in a school zone. In another school-zone case an adult deal went down in a private apartment.

Researchers have long known that the drug pusher was largely a myth, but it was not until a 2000 survey that it was quantified. This survey of drug-treatment patients found that less than 1% of them had been introduced to drugs by a professional dealer. In contrast, 19% had been introduced to drugs by a family member. (5)

The Propaganda

Despite this finding, supposedly objective news outlets continue to refer to drug dealers as pushers. A recent New York Daily News article opened with the following sentence, “Fourteen suspected drug pushers were arrested Thursday morning for operating a narcotics ring in two Brooklyn bodegas ….” (2)

The popular media and the government are even worse. Here are some graphic examples from different eras:

A 1971 Green Lantern comic book:

A Blasted Pusher(4)

An award-winning 1994 Partnership for a Drug-Free America public service announcement that bizarrely claimed young kids have to run past drug dealers or else they will be forced to do drugs. It ends with the narrator saying, “To Kevin Scott and all the other kids who take the long way home. We hear you. Don’t give up.”

A 2007 billboard in Central Pennsylvania:
Push Out the Pusher

For more examples see “The Aggressive Drug Dealer” page at

* This dependence rate is not surprising as cocaine dependence rates are similar to alcohol’s. (1) In addition, the social group that the dealer and I shared had several characteristics that ameliorate addiction risk. They were older, had above-average intelligence, and were not impoverished. (3)


1. James Anthony, Lynn Warner, & Ronald Kessler, “Comparative Epidemiology of Dependence ….,” Exp. Clin. Psychopharmacol., 1994, 2(3), p. 251.
2. Sarah Armaghan, “Police Nab 14 in Drug Ring Operating Out of Brooklyn Bodegas,”, 27 Apr. 2012. LINK
3. Robert Arthur, “Addictive Personality and the Non-Randomness of Addiction,” Narco Polo (blog), 5 Oct. 2011. LINK
4. Green Lantern, Vol. 2, #85, Aug. 1971. LINK
5. “One in Five Drug Abusers Needing Treatment Did Drugs with Parents,” PRNewswire, 24 Aug. 2000. LINK
6. Chris Rock, Bring the Pain (1996).

The Surprisingly Low Addiction Rates of Crack, Heroin, and Meth

Posted: October 11th, 2011 | Filed under: addiction, crack, drugs, heroin, methamphetamine | 3 Comments »

Crack Heroin Meth For Life - Not
A tenet of the drug war is that “hard” drugs are so pleasurable that once tried, most people cannot resist them. This fiction is propagated by the media which showcases in the words of Dr. Stanton Peele, “extremely self-dramatizing addicts,” while ignoring the vast invisible majority of recreational drug users – the unaddicted. (2) The truth is that illegal drugs’ addiction rates are not nearly as high as they are popularly portrayed.

As can be seen below, of the millions of Americans who have experienced the highs of crack, heroin, and methamphetamine only a small percentage have used them in the past month. Even if the ludicrous position is taken that every person who has partaken in the past month is an addict, the addictive power of these substances is clearly overblown.

Hard Drug Usage in Population 2010(1)

Bonus Link

The 8 Most Terrifying Anti-Meth Ads


1. “National Survey on Drug Use and Health,” Fig. 1.1A, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 2010. LINK
2. Stanton Peele, Diseasing of America (1995), p. 161.

The Addictive Personality and the Non-Randomness of Addiction

Posted: October 5th, 2011 | Filed under: addiction, alcohol, amphetamine, cocaine, drugs, gambling, marijuana, tobacco | 2 Comments »

The Non-Randomness of Addiction

A tenet of the drug war is that drug X is so pleasurable that once tried, most people cannot resist it. There is no way of knowing if you have the “disease” of lifelong addiction to drug X, therefore no one should ever try drug X. All of this is wrong.

The vast majority of people who try drugs do not go on to become addicted (1, 9), and those that do tend to share certain characteristics and conditions. Here are some of the things that predispose people to addiction:

Other Addictions

If a person has not been able to exercise self-control with one source of pleasure, it is more likely he or she will not be able to exercise self-control with another source of pleasure. As can be seen in the following chart, someone diagnosed with a cocaine dependence is 6.64 times more likely than someone without a cocaine dependence to develop a dependence to alcohol.

Substance Dependence Predicting Other Substance Dependence(6)

This overindulgence is not reserved to drugs as demonstrated by the considerable overlap of drug addictions and behavioral addictions. Note that the percentage of the general population that has ever experienced substance use disorders is 14.6%. (5)

Substance Use Disorders in Behavioral Addictions(2)

Although overlap with food addiction is complicated by drugs’ effects on weight (e.g. cigarettes and stimulants suppress appetites), 32.6% of weight-loss surgery candidates have experienced substance use disorders. (4)


Surveys of drinking have long found that despite being more likely to abstain, those from lower socioeconomic groups are still “much more often” problem drinkers. (10, p. 160) A more recent study has found income serves as a predictor for more than just alcohol dependence. As seen below, people in the poorest income bracket are almost three times as likely to become dependent on cocaine as those in the wealthiest bracket.

Income Predicting Substance Dependence(6)

Mental Health Issues

People with mental health issues are more likely than their peers to become addicted to substances. As can be seen below those diagnosed with ADHD or a personality disorder are three times as likely to become dependent on alcohol.

Mental Health Disorders Predicting Substance Dependence(6)

Lower Intelligence

Heavy drug users frequently score lower on cognitive tests than their peers. This has been used to say drugs lower intelligence. In the early 2000s two twin studies disproved this idea. In these studies one twin had a history of drug abuse and the other did not. Neither study found a correlation between cognitive performance and amount of drug use. The studied drugs were marijuana, cocaine, and amphetamine. Lower cognitive abilities lead to heavy drug use, not vice versa. (3, pp. 150-152)


An adoption study has shown that the biological father’s drinking patterns predict a son’s alcoholism, while the adoptive father’s does not. Boys whose biological fathers were severe alcoholics had an alcoholism rate of 18% with an alcoholic adoptive father, 17% with an adoptive home free of parental alcoholism. A study of twins found shared genes did not correlate with experimentation with illicit drugs, but if an identical twin was dependent there was a 40% chance the twin was also dependent. (3, p. 92)

Addictive Personality

People with substance use disorders, just like people with behavioral addictions, score high on self-report measures for sensation-seeking and impulsivity, and low for harm avoidance. (2) This is not surprising. An addict is arguably someone who chooses the sensation an activity provides at levels that are harmful. The choice is influenced by his or her impulsivity, i.e. the tendency to act without weighing the future consequences of one’s actions. The pleasure an addictive behavior provides is immediate whereas the pleasure of moderation is often distant and abstract (e.g. long-term health, more stable work/family life).


Not only are older people much less likely to become dependent on something, they are also more likely to end dependencies. The vast majority of addicts “mature out” of their addictions and most of them accomplish this without treatment. (11, p. 13) Maturing out is so pervasive that a national 2010 survey found that only .1% of people 65 or older had abused or been dependent on an illegal substance in the past year. The highest level was reached by 19-year-olds (9.3%) from which the number decreased with each ensuing age category. (8)

Age Predicting Substance Dependence(6)

In line with this, addictive personalities weaken over time. Older adults report being less impulsive, sensation-seeking, and risk tolerant than their younger peers. (12)


Addiction is an intense involvement people fall into for solace when they cannot find better gratifications in the rest of their lives. (11, p. 16) The escape provided by destructive behaviors is usually only appealing to those suffering from internal sources, e.g. mental health issues, or external sources, e.g. poverty. Addiction is a symptom of underlying problems. This helps explain why, contrary to the exhortations of America’s drug warriors, the legal status of drugs has been found to have “surprisingly little measurable consequence” on factors like addiction rates. (7, 3, p. 3) The locus of addiction lies in people, not substances.


1. Robert Arthur, You Will Die: The Burden of Modern Taboos, 3rd Ed. (2008), p. 330.
2. Jon Grant, et al., “Introduction to Behavioral Addictions,” American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 36, 2010.
3. Gene Heyman, Addiction: A Disorder of Choice (2009).
4. Melissa Kalarchian, et al., “Psychiatric Disorders Among Bariatric Surgery Candidates,” American Journal of Psychiatry, Feb. 2007. LINK
5. Ronald Kessler, et al., “Lifetime Prevalence and Age-of-Onset Distributions of DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication,” Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, 2005.
6. Catalina Lopez-Quintero, et al., “Probability and Predictors of Transition from First Use to Dependence ….,” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 115, 2011.
7. Robert MacCoun and Peter Reuter, Drug War Heresies (2001), pp. 236-237.
8. “National Survey on Drug Use and Health,” Fig. 5.3B, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 2010. LINK
9. Frank Owen, No Speed Limit (2007), p. 48.
10. Stanton Peele, Diseasing of America (1995), p. 160.
11. Stanton Peele, Seven Tools to Beat Addiction (2004).
12. D.R. Roalf, et al., “Risk, Reward, and Economic Decision Making in Aging,” Journals of Gerontology, 6 Sep. 2011. LINK