SENTENCING MUST ACCOUNT FOR STARTLING SCIENCE: ADDICTION IS BASED ON SHAPE OF DRUG USER’S BRAIN

A new drug study out of The University of Cambridge in England has some startling conclusions which should directly affect drug sentencing. Scientist found that recreational drug users who do not become addicted have “a brain structure which is significantly different than those who developed cocaine dependence.” 


Sigmund Freud was addicted to cocaine for over twelve years. Would he have been prosecuted for trafficking in cocaine had he lived in Tampa Bay, Florida today? The implication is that those who become addicted to drugs are suffering as much from a flaw in their brains than from a simple lack of will power or from a desire to break the law.

The research was published, Biological Psychiatry; here’s an excerpt from their findings:

The scientists discovered that a region in the frontal lobes of the brain, known to be critically implicated in decision-making and self-control, was abnormally bigger in the recreational cocaine users. 

The Cambridge researchers suggest that this abnormal increase in grey matter volume, which they believe predates drug use, might reflect resilience to the effects of cocaine, and even possibly helps these recreational cocaine users to exert self-control and to make advantageous decisions which minimize the risk of them becoming addicted. 

They found that this same region in the frontal lobes of the brain was significantly reduced in size in people with cocaine dependence…They also found that people who use illicit drugs like cocaine exhibit high levels of sensation-seeking personality traits, but only those developing dependence show personality traits of impulsivity and compulsivity.

One of the lynchpins of criminal law is that punishment must be based on acts which were done with the free will of the Defendant. Once someone becomes addicted the focus of the Criminal Justice System should not be on punishment with hard drug laws but on prevention. Yet for a percentage of the population taking drugs becomes an uncontrollable impulse. 
One wonders what would happen to an habitual cocaine addict such as Sigmund Freud who was addicted to cocaine for over twelve years. Had he live here in Tampa Bay, Florida would he have simply been charged with Trafficking in Cocaine while facing years of prison with a minimum mandatory sentence? 
An excellent book, Anatomy of an Addiction tells the harrowing tale of how Sigmund Freud beat his addiction while his best friend a renowned surgeon was ruined from his addiction to cocaine, while both experimented with the drug. 
Now with this new Cambridge scientific study we know that it wasn’t mere will power that determined who would beat the addiction, it was biology. Other recent studies have show that genetic triggers prove predisposition to commit crime.
Shouldn’t the Criminal Justice System take biological traits leading to addiction into account as sentencing to ensure fairness in Drug Court? Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorneys must persuade Judges that dependence on drugs is not just a lack of will power it’s often simply a fact of biology.