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Monday, January 2, 2012

What Vietnam Taught Us About Breaking Bad Habits : Shots - Health Blog : NPR

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It's a tradition as old as New Year's: making resolutions. We will not smoke, or sojourn with the bucket of mint chocolate chip. In fact, we will resist sweets generally, including the bowl of M &Ms that our co-worker has helpfully positioned on the aisle corner of his desk. There will be exercise, and the learning of a new language.

It is resolved.

So what does science know about translating our resolve into actual changes in behavior? The answer to this question brings us — strangely enough — to a story about heroin use in Vietnam.

People, when they perform a behavior a lot, outsource the control of the behavior to the environment.

In May of 1971 two congressmen, Robert Steele from Connecticut and Morgan Murphy of Illinois, went to Vietnam for an official visit and returned with some extremely disturbing news: 15 percent of U.S. servicemen in Vietnam, they said, were actively addicted to heroin.

The idea that so many servicemen were addicted to heroin horrified the public. At that point heroin was the bete noire of American drugs. It was thought to be the most addictive substance ever produced, a narcotic so powerful that once addiction claimed you, it was nearly impossible to escape.

In response to this report, President Richard Nixon took action. In June of 1971 he announced that he was creating a whole new office — The Special Action Office of Drug Abuse Prevention — dedicated to fighting the evil of drugs. He laid out a program of prevention and rehabilitation, but there was something else Nixon wanted: He wanted to research what happened to the addicted servicemen once they returned home.



What Vietnam Taught Us About Breaking Bad Habits : Shots - Health Blog : NPR

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