Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll

The Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle has become a celebrity cliché. What is it with that attracts people so strongly to put them on a path to self-destruction? And what does it mean for the rest of us?

If I made a list of all the stars who had fallen ‘victim’ to the dissolute lifestyle for which they are also famous, it would fill a book – a ‘Who’s who of hedonistic, alcohol fuelled, drug addicted, sex addicted celebrities.’ But we already know who they are.

Having spent some of my life in the entertainment industry, I always thought the cause was boredom – celebs have a lot of free time. Or perhaps with their vast wealth they can afford to waste vast amounts of money on substance abuse. Or maybe if all your mates in the industry are shoving stuff up their noses and guzzling five bottles of champagne every day, it might seem normal.

And for famous people, there’s never any shortage of women – or men for that matter – who are only too willing to sleep with them. Sexual excess is as just addictive as drugs – anything to the extreme – so long as you keep getting more.

But understanding human behaviour is never so simple – there is more to this than frequency of opportunity, there has to be neurological correlations with addiction, just as there are with any other kind of behaviour.

The part of our brain that feels pleasure from sex, drugs, nicotine, food, music, gambling, being in love, or religious or spiritual experiences are all linked. Specifically, a region of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens, processes reward and also plays a role in addiction.

Researchers from Montreal’s McGill University, led by cognitive psychologist Dr Daniel Levitin, have confirmed the connection between pleasure-boosting opioids as a result of gratification and those produced by the enjoyment of music. Individuals who harbour a love of music, with all it’s excitement, passions and emotion, are more likely to enjoy a deeper pleasure from sex, recreational drugs or food… et cetera.

Logically, this should also work the other way round – those who love food and fine wine will also enjoy great music, great sex, and of course, drugs.

The McGill team used naltrexone – a widely prescribed drug for treating addiction disorders – to block opioids in the brains of test subjects. Then they measured the subject’s responses to music and found that even their favourite songs failed to trigger a positive response. “I know this is my favourite song but it doesn’t feel like it usually does… It sounds pretty, but it’s not doing anything for me.” The full research is published in Nature ‘Scientific Reports’.

Addictive pleasures such as sex, drugs, alcohol and food can harm lives and destroy relationships. Understanding the chemical origins of pleasure in the brain has therefore been a key goal for neuroscience research for decades. Technology has only recently provided tools such as fMRI scanners to examine more fully the relationship between pleasure and addiction.

Of course, drugs are illegal and music isn’t, but it’s music’s universal appeal and ability to affect emotions that add to an already burgeoning body of evidence that points to an evolutionary biological origin for addiction. Music can calm the savage breast and it can also send men off to war. And now we have discovered a connection to the rest of life’s guilty pleasures.

So that explains some of the behaviour of our celebrity role models and their wild self-indulgent partying, public displays of inadequacy and frequent sojourns at the £2,000 a week Priory Clinic. It’s time to face the reality of drug addiction.

There is a misunderstood urban mythology that new ‘designer’ drugs like MDMA are not as bad as heroin or crack-cocaine was for the last generation. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Cocaine use increases the risk of stroke by six times every time it is taken. The latest research reveals that amphetamines such as speed, ice, ecstasy and other party drugs popular with the glitterati, cause the hearts of teenagers to age at an alarming rate. Amphetamines are already known to age the skin, speed up the heart rate, and increase blood pressure.

Users of MDMA, speed and ice are left with arteries so frail they could be mistaken for those of a pensioner. MDMA interferes with stem cell function – the cells involved in tissue repair and renewal.

Scientists at the University of Western Australia measured blood flow through the upper arm’s brachial artery and the forearm’s radial artery of 713 participants aged between 30 and 40 who had attended specialist clinics for substance abuse. This enabled the researchers to assess the degree of arterial stiffening – a known risk factor in heart disease.

Patients abusing amphetamines were questioned about their drug use. Their cardiovascular systems seemed to be ageing much faster as they had stiffer blood vessels, even after taking into account weight loss and cholesterol levels.

Both men and women were shown to be equally at risk from the effects of amphetamines, which send the production of adrenaline into overdrive and almost certainly ages the whole body – not just the cardiovascular system. This damage may be irreversible, highlighting the global epidemic of recreational stimulant use.

We have already lost the war on drugs.

As soon as one drug is made illegal or eliminated from the market, another takes its place – users simply find another source or a replacement ‘high.’

Less than 2% of the population of the UK habitually use drugs. We should redeploy the tens of millions we spend on fighting drugs to better and more effective anti drugs education. We could allow users to solve the problem themselves by drugging themselves into an early grave, thus allowing evolution to remove the stupid gene from future generations.

 

Copyright Andrew Newton 2017. All rights reserved.