Johann Hari’s Ted talk ‘Everything we think we know about addiction is wrong’, stated that the antidote to drug and possibly all addiction, is connection.
It’s been more than 100 years since drugs have been banned in the UK. The old model of punishing drug addicts has done little to deter them, let alone give them an incentive to stop. But what exactly is addiction and is there a more effective way to treat it?
It’s assumed that if you take heroin for a period of 20 days you would become an addict. Interestingly, diamorphine -pure heroin, is given to the elderly after hip replacement surgeries all over the world. These patients do not become heroin addicts.
Most of our theories on addiction come from a series of experiments done earlier in the 20th Century. Rats were put in a cage with both pure water and water laced with cocaine. The drugged water was the preferred choice and the rats died.
In the 1970’s professor Alexander noticed that the empty cages provided the rats with very little stimulation. He then went on to create a ‘Rat Theme Park’ complete with rat obstacle courses, a variety of foods and other rats to mate with. In Rat Theme Park zero percent overdosed.
For obvious, ethical, reasons this could not be recreated in the human world. Although a comparison could be made with the Vietnam War where 20% of troops used heroine on a regular basis but when back with their friends, families and civilian lifestyles this figure dropped by over 95%.
Peter Cohen, a Professor from the Netherlands, coined the term ‘bonding’. If people are traumatized or isolated they will find something else to bond with that gives them some sense of relief i.e. cocaine, gambling, pornography. People will always seek to bond and connect because it’s in their nature.
Punishing addicts, giving them criminal records and placing more barriers between them and society prevents reconnecting and in many cases increases the desire to return to the addictive behaviour.
In 2000 Portugal had the worst drug problem in Europe, 1% of the population was addicted to heroin. Every year they increased the punishments and every year the situation got worse. The Government set up a panel led by Dr Joao Goulao, under which they decriminalised all drugs but all the money they had previously spent on cutting addicts off and disconnecting them would be spent on reconnecting them. The Government offered a scheme whereby they would pay half their salary once employed. It gave the former addicts something to get out of bed for and as they discovered purpose they rediscovered bonds. 15 years later and results showed a massive decrease in overdoses and addiction.
We live in the loneliest time ever, studies show that the number of close friends a person has, has been declining since the 1950’s. Perhaps the problem of addiction can be solved socially, politically and individually by offering the message ‘you are not alone’. It appears the opposite of addiction could simply be connection.
By Natasha Kelly