I recently came across an article published on the Huffington Post that surprised and challenged me. The author, Johann Hari, has written a book called “Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs,” and through the exhaustive researched he conducted has formed some surprising conclusions about the root cause of addiction.
Granted, addiction is an incredibly complicated topic, and I'm sure that the underlying impulses result from a variety of causes, both biological and environmental. However, Hari's conclusion resonated deeply with me, as it connects the dots between many of my own areas of study. I won't go into all of the details he includes in his article (which I would encourage you to read, whether or not addiction is a factor in your life or your family), but I want to use his key takeaway as a jumping off point. Hari writes,
“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.”
To be clear, I am not arguing against sobriety, or any method of overcoming addiction that works for people. I just want to share the awakening that I felt when I read this article — Yes! Here is another tool, a holistic, human connection-oriented approach to add to our toolkit when we are addressing or overcoming addiction.
Connection vs. Isolation
This simple conclusion struck me because it relates so strongly to the teachings of A Course in Miracles and the Arbinger Institute, both of which I count as primary inspirations in my work and my life. Yet here it is — the same core belief that connection with others can help us and heal us — applied in the context of addiction, a terrible disease that encourages and feeds off of isolation.
One example from Hari's article addresses the use of heroin as a coping mechanism by U.S. soldiers stationed in Vietnam: while isolated and living in constant stress and fear, it is estimated that almost 20% of soldiers became addicted to heroin. Yet, when they returned to the U.S., to their families and their communities, the vast majority were able to quickly overcome that addiction and set heroin aside. Hari argues that the context of their lives changed rapidly from one of isolation to one of connection, enabling them to find pleasure in living again.
I am convinced, not that this is the answer, but that it is a part of the answer to many of the problems that plague us, both individually and as a society. The lack of true and honest connections, of empathy, leads us down a path of isolation and loneliness. Reaching out and making these connections can help us and heal us.
The Neuroscience of Reaction
As I was exploring this idea of connection vs. isolation, I had the opportunity to speak with the neuroscientist James E. Zull, author of From Brain to Mind. Zull spoke about how as human beings we process information emotionally. The chemistry of our emotions outweighs our initial thought process, so instead of thinking our way out of problems, we often go into an emotional tirade through reaction.
Understanding the way our bodies and brains process stimuli provides another key into the question of how we can better connect to each other. The reactionary, emotional component of our response can either bring us together or drive a wedge that keeps us apart. Understanding this phenomenon can help us moderate our initial reactions and prioritize our ability to connect over our desire to push away.
The Gut Health Connection
Another way in which Hari's investigation into the causes of addiction resonates with me comes from considering the body-mind health connection between our gut health (which I've previously discussed) and our cognitive health. Our “microbiome,” the intricate system of trillions of bacteria in our digestive system, is responsible for manufacturing vital neurochemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin, both of which are extremely influential in neurological activity. The health of our microbiome therefore has a substantial impact on our neurological health.
Some studies suggest a link between gut health and the tendency towards addiction. This could mean that an approach to recovery that includes an emphasis on achieving a healthy microbiome may be of use to those who are struggling with addiction.
What might this all mean for the approach we take as a society to understanding and helping individuals who are dealing with addiction? It seems to me that an holistic approach, one that addresses the health of the body, the mind, and the community aspects behind this struggle would be wise. In my own life, I hope to be a force for creating open, honest connections, and a supportive framework that decreases the pressures of loneliness and isolation. How about you? By- Ace Wagner
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