I have witnessed too many of my friend’s addictions to something, how do I know about addiction, it was cigarettes. For years after college, I was addicted, it took deep concentration and hard work to get over the addiction. The research was to find the root cause of addiction.
In an increasingly widely disseminated TED Talk titled “Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong,” British journalist Johann Hari discusses the available research into the underlying causes of addiction and concludes, rather brilliantly, that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s connection. His statement echoes something I knew for many years — that addiction is not about the pleasurable effects of substances, it’s about the user’s inability to connect in healthy ways with other human beings. In other words, addiction is not a substance disorder, it’s a social disorder, it is the root cause of addiction.
This, of course, is contrary to what most folks believe about substance abuse. In general, people think that the pleasurable effects of alcohol, cocaine, heroin, and the like are the primary drivers of addiction. And why not? We know for certain that once ingested these substances trigger the release of dopamine and several other pleasure-related neurochemicals into the brain. In other words, potentially addictive substances make us feel good, and because we like to feel good, we tend to go back for more. Hence, the human propensity for addiction. Or so it seems at first glance. Bolstering this belief is the fact that most of the early research and theories on the root causes of addiction are centred on the brain’s pleasure response — the aforementioned dopamine rush. Even the National Institute on Drug Abuse initially espoused this view.
Nevertheless, this long-held belief is incorrect. If it wasn’t, then everybody who ever took a sip of alcohol would become a raging drunk, and everyone who ever ingested an opiate (even via prescription) would end up in a back alley shooting heroin. But that isn’t even close to what actually happens. In reality, only about 10 per cent of the people who try a potentially addictive substance eventually become addicted. The rest of the people either walk away from the substance completely or continue to enjoy it casually or use it on a recreational platform.
You may be saying how is that, but when you grow up in a home with brothers and sisters and you call yourself a close-knit family, many friends how can you explain to someone that with all of that you still find it difficult to connect.
The good news is that people with insecure attachment styles are not locked into this approach for life. With proper guidance and a fair amount of conscious effort the individuals who were not graced with secure attachment in childhood (and therefore the ability to easily connect in adulthood) can learn to securely attach — usually through therapy, support groups, and various other healthy and healing relationships — creating over time what is known as “earned security.”
For human addicts, earned security is a very important concept. Rats don’t really need it. You can take an addicted rat and toss him into the rat park and he will quickly and easily assimilate, pushing his addiction to the curb in favour of healthier rat connections and activities. But people? Not so much. With human addicts, there is further work to be done, and part of that work nearly always involves overcoming the lack of trust and connection created in childhood.
Interestingly, both AA and the addiction treatment community as a whole realized this fact long before Alexander’s rat park experiment. In truth, the often parallel work of 12-step recovery programs and formalized addiction treatment programs — after the initial experience of detox — involves connecting the addict to other people. And not just any people, either. We’re talking about safe, supportive, reliable, empathetic people. You think the reason why you put all these folks together is because they are basically all weak and so codependent group is placed together to help each other, however, it is because addicts do on some level can relate to each other and because of the trust element the professional who is assigned to help will say I was where you are and I kicked it, so you can, make a big difference.
The Root Cause of Addiction
So it does indeed appear that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s connection. That said, developing healthy interpersonal connections as a part of recovery and healing is not easy. It takes time, effort, and a willing support network. The good news is that we now know for certain that this type of recovery and social connection is possible — even for the most problematic of addicts.
“If you do not stop smoking I am going to move out and take the kids!” Clearly, this is the message from someone who truly doesn’t understand how addiction works. “I fear for your life, aren’t you afraid to die, do you love me enough to stop?” I could go on and on about persons who do not understand addiction or the addict and is making it worse for their partners, children, relatives or friends.
The fact that you are reading this is saying that you are searching, good luck in finding! The root cause of addiction is a connection and once we are aware of that success is just around the corner.