Addiction is generally defined as a behavioural pattern that involves a person who compulsively engages in drug-taking, gambling, drinking or gaming (amongst other outlets). Even when destructive side effects kick in and people feel like they’re losing control, addicts usually can’t stop doing the thing they’re addicted to without help and support. These people often find themselves in a downward spiral of destruction which often results in unemployment, homelessness, prison and can even be fatal.
In the recent exploration of addiction, many scientists have uncovered that everything we think we know about addiction is wrong – including the causes and treatment of those suffering from addiction. This new approach may just change everything.
Johann Harri, the author of Chasing The Scream, recently captured widespread public interest with his Ted talk Everything You Know About Addiction Is Wrong, where he concluded with this powerful statement: “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.”
Johann Hari goes on to explain that by right, human beings have an innate need to bond. When we’re happy and healthy we naturally bond and connect with each other. If you do not formulate these bonds with community, you will formulate them with an alternative outlet – such as drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, gambling, exercise, eating, technology, shopping etc. Basically stating that our constitution is designed to bond and if there’s nothing positive around you to bond with, you will find an alternative such as something destructive.
Addictive personality traits are often formed by a person who cannot bear to be present in their normal life. This goes hand-in-hand with a person who is uncomfortable in their own skin. In the fast-paced world we live in, with so many distractions and devices, we seldom take the opportunity to truly connect and sit with ourselves in order to deepen our practice of self-love and acceptance. Without knowing ourselves, it’s like trying to forge a relationship with a stranger – it can be awkward and uncomfortable and therefore we lean towards distractions to avoid the confrontation.
Emotional resilience is the key to warding off addictive behaviour and this is established, or not, from a very young age. A General Theory Of Love is a collaboration between three professors of psychiatry at the University of California in San Francisco which reveals that humans require social connection for optimal brain development and that babies cared for in a loving environment are psychological and neurologically ‘immunised’ by love. When things get difficult in adult life, the neural wiring developed from a love-filled childhood leads to increased emotional resilience in adult life. Conversely, those who grow up in an environment where loving care is unstable or absent are less likely to be resilient in the face of emotional distress.
Addiction Specialist, Dr Gabor Maté, observes an extremely high rate of childhood trauma in the addicts he works with and trauma is the extreme opposite of growing up in a consistently safe and loving environment. He concludes that it is extremely common for people with addictions to have a reduced capacity for dealing with emotional distress, hence an increased risk of drug dependence. Maté cites ’emotional loss and trauma’ as the core of addiction with a belief in uncovering and processing the emotional scars we often suppress as a coping mechanism.
“Ask not why the addiction, but why the pain.” -Dr. Gabor Maté
Johann Hari concludes that “The opposite of addiction is connection”. As a society, we often ostracise addicts by institutionalising them and rejecting them from society. This method is literally the fuel for addiction. Instead of further removing a person from a community, we must work to integrate them into society and give purpose to their lives – that reason to get out of bed in the morning that we all need. When we connect with others, we formulate bonds we want to be present for. Also, when we connect with ourselves and are proud of the life we’re living – we can enjoy our alone time without the need for distractions.
The bottom line is that the opposite of addiction is connection and as addicts re-discover purpose and bonds, they are able to live a healthy life free from addiction. We all need a purpose in our lives, a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Whether it’s for your work, your family, your loved ones, a creative hobby or special interest. Find your purpose, your tribe, your happy place and liberate yourself from addiction.