Damian Thompson: Whitney Houston’s addiction to crack cocaine may not have killed her, but it did change her
WHETHER Whitney Houston died as a direct result of taking crack cocaine isn't clear; but no one – least of all, herself – was in any doubt that her self-confessed crack addiction destroyed her career. Over the years her fans have desperately wanted her to clean up her act for good. Perhaps if they knew more about crack they would understand why that was unlikely to happen.
I've spent the last 18 months working on The Fix, a book about the spread of addiction in society. My argument is that millions of ordinary people, not just celebrities, drunks or junkies, feel the need to "fix" their moods in response to a deadly combination of accelerating work pressure and accelerating temptation. The world around us is actually changing our brains.
Put simply, our "wanting" impulses and our "liking" impulses are not the same thing. Environmental cues increase the flow of the neurotransmitter dopamine in our brains. Dopamine controls desire or "wanting"; the subsequent experience of pleasure ("liking") also involves dopamine, but not to such a great extent. Dopamine helps explain why our mouths water at the thought of food; why we feel excited at the prospect of going out with friends; why we say yes to another glass of wine when we know we shouldn't; why we can't drag ourselves away from the shopping mall. It's also ruthlessly hijacked by internet porn.