Is political power an addiction?

According to the Telegraph, it seems to have a similar effect.

Democracy, the separation of judicial powers and the free press all evolved for essentially one purpose – to reduce the chance of leaders becoming power addicts. Power changes the brain triggering increased testosterone in both men and women. Testosterone and one of its by-products, called 3-androstanediol, are addictive, largely because they increase dopamine in a part of the brain’s reward system called the nucleus accumbens. Cocaine has its effects through this system also, and by hijacking our brain’s reward system, it can give short-term extreme pleasure but leads to long-term addiction, with all that that entails.

Unfettered power has almost identical effects.

. . .

Submissiveness and dominance have their effects on the same reward circuits of the brain as power and cocaine. Baboons low down in the dominance hierarchy have lower levels of dopamine in key brain areas, but if they get ‘promoted’ to a higher position, then dopamine rises accordingly. This makes them more aggressive and sexually active, and in humans similar changes happen when people are given power. What’s more, power also makes people smarter, because dopamine improves the functioning of the brain’s frontal lobes. Conversely, demotion in a hierarchy decreases dopamine levels, increases stress and reduces cognitive function.

But too much power – and hence too much dopamine – can disrupt normal cognition and emotion, leading to gross errors of judgment and imperviousness to risk, not to mention huge egocentricity and lack of empathy for others.

There’s more at the link.

If that’s the case, I have two suggestions.

  1. Can we add political power to the list of forbidden items in the War On (Some) Drugs, and jail those trying to obtain the stuff?
  2. As a form of treatment, can we please wean politicians off power and onto crack or ecstasy instead?  The latter drugs will kill them in the end, but in the meantime they’ll be much less dangerous to the rest of us!



  1. On a topic related to this post, I've been thinking more about the term limits issue.

    From Obama's comment to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev – "after my election I have more flexibility" – is an indication that once Obama was not facing another election his policies and practices would likely change, and not to the advantage of the American people. Heaven knows what atrocities Obama would inflict upon us should we be unlucky enough for him to win a second term.

    The same is probably true for any elected official facing mandated term limits, although I would expect Congressional Representatives and Senators would be more interested in accumulating personal gain than destroying their country (although, were a substantial number of both groups facing term limits I wouldn't rule that out).

    So, I'm proposing a modification to my previous term limit proposal ("no individual will serve more then five terms or portions thereof in federal elected office, no more than two of which may be in the same office…."). The five term thing leaves the opportunity for additional terms, albeit in a different office, right up to the 5th term served. Which is where we would have to watch them like a hawk.

    What I'm proposing is not so much mandated term limits per office, but a mechanism which will determine whether or not they can run for another term in that office, or must seek election to a different office. At the 75% mark of each term – 18 months for representatives, 4.5 years for senators and 3 years for presidents – a fair coin will be flipped by a certifiably unbiased party on national television and heads they get to run for another term in that particular office, tails they don't.

    This would not affect competition for the office because potential candidates would be gearing up for a run in any case, any re-election war chest accumulated by an incumbent could be used to run for any other office, or put into a pool to be distributed as a "retirement bonus" for all incumbents in that particular legislative body who decide to retire from political life (thus having the effect of limiting campaign contributions until it was determined that Incumbent X was permitted to run again) as well as establishing a defined length of election campaigns.

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