"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 theses 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 researching, 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 w 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. Punished of jail. The shame of having the label "addict." 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 Portugal decided to look into. And its findings may shock you.
Portugal had one of the worst drug addiction statistics in the world. They tried the "American way" to clean up the problem 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 on disconnecting these addicts (via jail, etc) and spend it on reconnecting them with society. The money went to creating jobs and micro loans 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 could change someone facing addiction.
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