The opposite of addiction is not what you think.
Author Johan Hari theorizes that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety but rather connection. He came to his theory after studying previous theories of addiction. Specifically, the “Rat Park” experiments conducted by psychology professor Bruce Alexander. Alexander’s experiments built on earlier addiction experiments wherein rats were placed in solitary environments and given a choice between water bottles containing plain water and bottles containing water laced with heroin. Results from the earliest studies showed that rats would quickly choose the heroin water over the plain water and consume it at overdose rates until they eventually died from the overuse of the drug. Rats are often used in psychological experiments because they have demonstrated the same social needs as human beings. Both rats and humans have needs for community and companionship, for aspects of play and for sexual desires. Alexander noted the glaring absence of these basic social needs of the rats being accounted for in previous studies. In his experiments, he created what has been dubbed “the Rat Park”. These rat parks were many times larger than the solitary cages and contained all that the average rat on the town might need. There was ample food and water, play areas, private areas for mating, comfortable bedding, and plenty of other rats. Alexander’s results showed that while some rats would use the heroin laced water there were no addictive behaviors associated with its use and NO overdoses.
Early studies seemed to confirm that the pleasurable effects of the drugs were the driving factor in addictive behavior. Alexander’s studies and Hari’s theory both directly refute these findings. While the pleasurable effects cannot be ignored, it is after all why people use drugs and alcohol, it is important to note that only around ten percent of people who do use drugs or and alcohol use in an addictive way. These ten percent are very likely not having their basic social needs fulfilled. There are as many ways for these needs to be left unfulfilled as there are people who become addicted to drugs and alcohol, highlighting the concept of this social theory of addiction treatment. Further studies conducted throughout the 90’s and the early 00’s clearly indicate more favorable results in addiction treatment outcomes when there is a group component to the process. This can include peer-based groups such as AA or NA or more traditional group therapy type settings. Results even improve when just an individual’s significant other engages in the process.
It is a combination of scientific research, theoretical study and our own lived experiences that puts the Turning Point Center of Rutland in the business of making connections. The staff at the Turning Point Center strive to make everyone feel welcome and wanted, a part of the TPC family. Their approach involves working with an individual to improve their overall connection with society by helping to secure food, housing, and/or employment in addition to directly supporting addiction recovery. By placing a person in a position to feel a sense of connection, of belonging, of contribution, is to place a person in a position to overcome their addiction.
Follow the link below to Johan Hari’s Ted Talk on the subject