Everything We Know About Breaking Addiction Is Wrong

Heroin syringe and pills.

If at a hospital after an overdose, the patient is often given diamorphine — which is much stronger than heroin on the streets. (Image: Sira Jantararungsan via Dreamstime)

Everyone believes drugs are addictive and once you start taking them, after a certain period you’ll become subject to the chemical hooks of addiction, right? Well, not necessarily.

If at a hospital after an overdose, the patient is often given diamorphine — which is much stronger than heroin on the streets. So after they leave the hospital, some of them should become heroin addicts, right. This has been closely studied and very few became addicted to heroin once they left the hospital.

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So why didn’t they become addicted? British journalist Johann Hari had people close to him who were addicts and wanted to research further why they could not break the habit, and what he found will completely turn your mind around on the way we view addictions.

Our reasons for believing in the way addictions control us come from an experiment done early in the 20th century. What they did was put a rat in a cage on its own and then give it nothing but either plain water or water laced with heroin. The majority of the time, the rat only drank the water laced with heroin until it died.

Man in a hooded jacket with his arms crossed.
Professor Alexander started thinking, what if it’s not the drugs, what if it’s your ‘cage’ so to speak or an adaptation to your environment? (Image: Stevanovicigor via Dreamstime.com)

New perspective on addiction

But then in the ’70s, Bruce Alexander, a professor of psychology in Vancouver, thought let’s make a “rat heaven” and give it everything it could want to make it happy, and so “rat park” was built, equipped with toys, tunnels, food, other rats, and the two types of water — one laced with heroin and the other plain. Surprisingly, the rats mostly drank the plain water and hardly touched the heroin water.

This gave them a whole new perspective on addiction; are drugs really the problem? Next, they wanted to test this theory out on humans; but legally this could not be done. There was, however, something similar that was happening at that time, which was the Vietnam War. During the war, 20 percent of the soldiers became addicted to heroin.

The people back in America were worried that when the war was over, there would be hundreds of heroin addicts on the streets. But this didn’t happen; 95 percent of the soldiers stopped using once they returned home and didn’t have withdrawals.

Professor Alexander started thinking, what if it’s not the drugs, what if it’s your “cage” so to speak, or an adaptation to your environment? Another Professor, Peter Cohen, said it shouldn’t be called addiction, but bonding. People with healthy relationships, good jobs, and a happy life don’t feel they need to bond with drugs.

Watch this TED talk by Johann Hari about addiction:

I, myself, was addicted to drugs. At 13, it was alcohol and marijuana; by the time I was 18, it was ecstasy, speed, and LSD. I found I enjoyed taking them as they made me the happy person I wanted to be. After a few years of taking drugs, they started to make me feel worse than I was before, so I stopped taking them and had no withdrawals.

However, I could never give up binge drinking alcohol whenever I had a problem. Luckily for me, when I was 22, I started doing a meditation practice and have never drunk alcohol again. So what changed for me was instead of drinking excessively when I had a problem, I would meditate. I also have good connections with family and friends.

As humans, we need to bond and connect, and when we have a tragedy in our lives, some of us turn to drugs instead to help relieve the pain. But if we had strong connections with people we could turn to in a crisis, perhaps we wouldn’t feel the need to turn to drugs.

So if someone close to you is addicted to drugs, don’t push them away — bond with them.

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