What if we've been looking at addiction all wrong? Best-selling author Johann Hari says, "The opposite of drug addiction is not sobriety. It's connection." What does he mean? Consider his points of reference from his animated video Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, which claims the war on drugs is where we've failed. Instead of being determined to eliminate drugs and punish users, what we should be doing is learning to understand what is pushing addicts to use. "We can address the desire for drugs by understanding that our surroundings play a huge part in driving us to abuse mind-altering substances," he tells Huffington Post.
It's a theory that goes back to the '70s, when psychologist Bruce Alexander experimented with rats in something called "Rat Park," Hari's first example. The test let happy rats in a joyful environment choose between regular water and water laced with heroin. The rats continually chose the regular water, never becoming addicted to the laced water and none of them overdosing on the drugged water.
It's an experiment that he then turns to real life with vets from the Vietnam War. While in Vietnam, 20 percent of soldiers used heroin, as they were trapped in a miserable environment. When they returned home, the vast majority stopped using, not even attending any sort of rehab. Once they returned to an environment where they felt connected, they no longer needed to alter their mental state.
The moral, as Hari points out, is that isolating those who suffer from addiction with jail time isn't helping the cause. He argues that instead the best environment for an addict is one that allows them to thrive with social interaction and, most importantly, support. Each of these, he says, will put them on the road to recovery and help them overcome the desire to return to drugs.
At a time when so many are in danger, 8,260 people in the U.S. died from an overdose between 2012 and 2013 - taking this into consideration is critical.
Isolation isn't a cure. Making a human connection is. Reaching out to those who struggle, rather than punishing them, is the road to recovery.
You Know Nothing About Addiction
"What if addiction isn't about chemical hooks? What if addiction is about your cage, your environment?"
It's a question that makes you stop and think.
Recently, we featured an animated video from British journalist Johann Hari, who declared we're treating addiction all wrong. His video declares that addiction is based on environment. It's a topic that's causing people to stop and think. Hari recently headed to TED to talk about his viewpoint, a viewpoint he's experienced first-hand. There, he posed the questions asked above. After spending three years researching the war on drugs and thinking about the way we treat addicts, he penned the book Chasing the Scream. And then he hit the stage to talk about his personal experiences with understanding addiction, both in his family and what he's learned along the way.
After years of research he came to this conclusion: "Almost everything we think we know about addiction is wrong. And if we start to absorb new evidence I think we are going to have to change a lot more than our drug policies."
"Maybe we shouldn't even call it addiction. Maybe we should call it bonding," he states, referencing Professor Peter Cohen of the Netherlands. "Humans have a natural and innate need to bond. When we are happy and healthy we bond and connect with each other. But if you can't do that because you are traumatized or isolated or beaten down, you will bond with something that will give you relief." That could be heroin. That could be alcohol. That could be cocaine. That could be so many of the things we as a society are addicted to today. "You will bond and connect with something because that's our nature."
Maybe, as Hari points out, that bond is built because you not able to bear being present in your life. He goes on to say that once you are labeled an addict, it's a scarlet letter you are forced to wear. There is the punishment of jail, the shame of having the label "addict," and the curse of a criminal record. Each of these keeps the addict trapped in that place, never truly allowing them to escape. And once the stigma is there, how do you escape it? It was a question the country of Portugal decided to look into. And its findings may shock you.
Portugal had one of the worst drug addiction problems in the world. They tried to clean up the problem the "American way" and it didn't work. So they let scientists and doctors lead a panel to examine the problem at hand. That panel came back and said decriminalize all drugs - from cannabis to crack - across the board. The panel then said take all the money earmarked for disconnecting these addicts (via jail, etc.) and spend it instead on reconnecting them with society. The money went to creating jobs and microloans for these so-called addicts. And as Hari found out through his research, it worked. These jobs and loans gave the "addicts" a reason to get up in the morning. In fact, it's been 15 years since the experiment began and injection drug use is down 50 percent.
Punishment and suffering are not a deterrent for those who struggle with addiction. In fact, they may even push an addict closer to drugs. What will deter addicts is giving them purpose.
Treatment, rehabilitation, understanding, goals - these are the tools that can help people facing addiction.
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