I have a family member that is an addict. This person was supposed to be one of the most important people in my life. The person who was supposed to love me unconditionally, choose me, value me. . . . His struggle with addiction stole him from me. It has created a block of anger that I don’t know will ever really go away.
I found a Ted Talk called Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong by Johann Hari. It makes a lot of sense. I don’t take credit for what is written below as I just notated what Johann said in his speech. (Of course it is not exact, just my notes)
“Basically – our idea of addiction is that when someone is exposed to a drug, like opiates, some sort of ‘chemical hook’ attaches to them & then they become addicted. But tons of people go to the doctor or hospital every day for injuries and leave with the real deal pain meds. Most of our Grandma’s don’t walk out of the hospitals and become junkies. When they don’t need the medicine anymore, they just stop taking them.
It doesnt make sense that lots of people are exposed to the same scenerio or drug and some become addicts and some don’t. Maybe we have the wrong focus and idea about what addiction is.
All of the ideas about addiction that we have learned come from experiments done in the 1920’s where they put rats in a cage. In the cage the rat was given two water bottles. One with water & One with drug water. The rat always chose and preferred the drug water and almost always overdosed and died. He was hooked. Period. So that became the glasses we look through to explain how addicts become addicts. They get “hooked” from use of the drug.
Professor Alexander, from Canada, noticed something interesting about the experiments – The experiments had the rats in empty cages. Isolated. He decided to make a rat cage that was the ultimate rat park. They could have all the cheese they wanted, tunnels, things to do, friends, sex etc. This cage had two water bottles too. (one with water and one with drug water) Interestingly, the rats almost always preferred the normal water. They didn’t choose the drug water while in the rat park.
We go from almost all the rats overdosing while isolated, and almost 0% overdosing when not isolated.
What if addiction is not about your ‘chemical hooks?’
What if addiction is about your cage?
In fact, instead of calling it ‘addiction,’ we should call it ‘bonding.’ Humans natural innate need is to bond and when we are happy and healthy, we will bond with each other. But if you can’t do that because you are traumatized or isolated or beaten down by life, you will bond with something that will give you some sense of relief. This could be gambling, pornography, cocaine, smartphones, pot. . but you will bond and connect with something, because that’s our nature. That’s what we want as human beings.
We all treat addicts by punishing them, giving them criminal records – we put barriers in front of them from reconnecting. We shame them.
According to Dr. Joao Goulao, head of the drug intervention branch of the Portugal’s health ministry – 1% of the people in Portugal were addicted to Heroin. Portugal had the worst drug problem in Europe. Every year they tried to fix the problem the American way: punishing them and stigmatizing them. Every year, it got worse. In 2000, the Prime Minister set up a panel of scientists and doctors in order to genuinely figure out a solution to the problem.
The experiment was to decriminalize all drug use. From pot to crack. But the most important thing was to use all the money they had been spending on disconnecting the addicts from society and use it to connect them to society. To use the money for job creation for the addicts. Use it for micro loans for addicts to start-up small businesses. They would go to a mechanic garage and say “Hey – If you will employ him for a year, we will pay half his wages.”
The goal was for every drug addict to have a reason to wake up in the morning. When they rediscovered purpose, they rediscovered bonds & relationships with the wider society. 15 years later – the drug use in Portugal is down by 50%.
Disconnection is a major driver of addiction.
Then, as Americans, we think that’s weird to say because we are so connected. Right? But really . . . . with smartphones, social media – we have what is like a parody of human connection. If you had crisis right now, it wouldn’t be your 2856 Instagram followers or 287 active Facebook friends that would come to your side. It’s gonna be flesh and blood friends that matter.
Since the 50’s – studies show the number of people we can count on in a crisis, has rapidly decreased. Since then, the overall house space has increased. Think about that.
Everyone wants to focus on individual recovery – and that is the right thing. But we need to also talk about social recovery.
It’s hard to love an addict. The script we are told on how to deal with an addict is much like the reality show “Intervention” – where they gather all family and friends together and confront the addict. Tell them if they don’t shape up, they will cut the addict off. We take the connection the addict has and threaten it. Make it contingent on the addict behaving the way we want them to behave.
For 100 years now, we have been singing war songs to addicts. We need to be singing love songs. ”
Click Here to watch the video.