Building a Case for Connection
For a long time, “abstinence” was considered the opposite of addiction. Just put systems in place to ensure the person doesn’t have access to his or her substance of choice… and – ding! – addiction solved.
Fortunately, the research and understanding around psychological and physiological addictions continue to evolve, and today we understand that setting someone up for long-term sobriety is far more involved than a simplified if/then equation. A successful rehabilitation journey should have at least some of the following results:
- Improved mental health as well as overall health
- Ceased use of drug(s) or alcohol
- Regular employment
- Better relationships with family and friends
The best support is a community effort.
Most of us have probably heard the expression “It takes a village to raise a child.” It turns out, the village helps everyone, not just the kids. In a widely watched TED Talk, British journalist Johann Hari proposes that the opposite of addiction is actually connection. Introducing an experiment commonly referred to as the Rat Park study, he discussed a Canadian psychology professor named Bruce Alexander who put a new spin on a previous addiction experiment. The initial experiment put an isolated rat in a cage with two bottles of water, one plain water and the other containing heroin or cocaine. The solitary rat will favor the drugged water, returning to it repeatedly until it dies.
Alexander wanted to see what would happen if he exposed the rats to the same water choices but changed their surroundings, this time putting them in a more enriched, socially stimulating environment. Called “Rat Park,” the new cage was much larger, included high-quality food, things to play with, and other rat friends to spend time with. When compared with the findings of the solitary rats’ preference for the spiked water, the results associated with the Rat Park inhabitants’ habits were very different. While the Rat Park rats tried both bottles of water, they displayed a clear preference for the plain, undrugged water, consuming less than 25 percent of what the isolated rats did. The “happy rats” didn’t want – or need – the drugs.
Lest we think, well, those are rats, Hari goes on to talk about a seemingly similar situation that played out with people: the Vietnam War, where the use of heroin was prevalent among U.S. soldiers. After the war ended, people in the U.S. braced themselves for the return of drug-addicted soldiers. But that didn’t happen. What did happen is that approximately 95 percent of the heroin-addicted soldiers came home and just stopped using the drug, most of them without rehab. Once they were in the human equivalent of Rat Park, they no longer craved the escape.
Admittedly, addiction doesn’t just result from an individual’s environment. Factors such as heredity, life experiences, trauma, mental illnesses and more all exert an influence. And while we may not be able to control all of the things that contribute to addiction, what we can control is how we respond to it. Isn’t it time we skip the judgment and punishment and try spreading love and connection instead?
To learn more about how you can best support someone you love who’s addicted to drugs or alcohol, call or email Jordan Hamilton at 720-577-4422 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.