Drug addicts get no respect. 

They get called sick, diseased, victims of a genetic disorder. Or morally weak, cowardly, soft.

Yet a small but growing band of scholars are turning the conventional wisdom on overuse upside down and saying: using drugs is totally sane. 

Lauren Ciovacco, a therapist in Boulder, Colorado, co-authored "Sanity of Addiction," a paper published recently in the "Journal of Humanistic Psychology."

"Addiction arises from wisdom," Ciovacco wrote in his paper. "Compulsive behavior is not a disease or a flaw, rather an activity of a person's greater intelligence." 

The 60,000+ dying each year from drug overdoses, the family men blowing their life savings on blow, they didn't malfunction, they're not wimps. 

Let's talk about rats. Scientists are always sticking rats in cages with levers they push to give themselves cocaine, meth or opiates. And the rats turn into drug fiends. Then the scientists see what makes the rats do less drugs. Other drugs? Electroshocks?

Reading about the drug-addicted varmints behind bars, one scientist tried an experiment. He pulled the rats out of their cages and built them Rat Park. A rodent penthouse, basically; it had food, tin cans for hiding in, platforms for climbing on, and both sexes. It was a critter orgy in there. Utopia on four legs. And guess what? When the researcher, Bruce K. Alexander, offered the little dudes drugs, they said, Nah, man, I got this tight chick over here I'm hooking up with, and we got capture the flag later.

When a squirrel's cold, he climbs in his hole. When he's hungry, he finds nuts. When he's locked in a cage, he puts on the tourniquet or lights up the pipe.

So says this book "The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease," by Marc Lewis. Addiction is the brain doing what it's supposed to do: "seek pleasure and relief in a world that is not cooperating."

Take Eric Pieper, 31. From the age of 18 until about a year ago, it's been pills, benzos, then heroin, then speedballs for him. "I never ever felt diseased," Pieper told us. "I know what disease looks like. Both my parents had cancer. That's a disease.

"I was so mad at the world for having my parents sick my whole life," he continues. "I was making this insane, insane choice" to use heroin.  

Insane? Ciovacco doesn't think so.

Folks like Pieper are "getting an existential need met that he wasn’t getting met as a child," said Ciovacco, who is also a co-founder of Boulder's Nowak Society (which helps folks toward a healthy relationship with substances.) "Pretty much going through life searching for that hug, and man opiates sure do replicate a hug." 

You need what drugs give you. You inject and oh, oh glory, you have all you need for once — you who lived a life where you were never given enough. To snort a line and white out all the black muck of everyday, and be where the tide only rolls in and never rolls out. When tweakers and dope fiends get fucked up on drugs, they're cold squirrels climbing into holes, caged rats looking for an out.  

"I just don't know that we're broken the way that people say that we are," Ciovacco adds. "This is not saying that we don't have work to do or that we're not struggling, but I do not think we're as fucked up as psychology wants to say."