The American lifestyles vary greatly; the diversity of our nation is a beautiful thing, but it also means that many individuals have different experiences with addiction. For some, addiction is a concept learned at school that appears a few times on your pop quiz: stay in school and don’t do drugs. For others, it hits too close to home and can tear apart families. The stats reveal that it truly is a societal health hazard. Education is a gamechanger when it comes to hazardous topics, and addiction is not different. So what do you know about it so far, specifically substance abuse?
A hundred years ago, US and GBR banned drugs and essentially criminalized addicts. The ensuing years have erupted into a colorful history about the war on drugs. For those who are surrounded by drugs, they can tell you that addiction can ruin lives. Ultimately, the laws blame the addict and the drugs. But is it really their fault? Johann Hari is a journalist who presented a Ted Talk and described the history of psychological research behind a multitude of experiments conducted on addiction to Heroin. How is it that heroin off the streets can ruin some lives, but a pure, medical heroin can help with recovery from a hip transplant? There is a huge difference between doctors and drug dealers!
Johann talks about an experiment performed on a caged rat who will almost always prefer the water bottle laced with heroin to the pure water. But another Professor decided to alter the experiment, making it more realistic. The rats were put in “Rat park” where they had cheese, toys, tunnels, and loads of friends. They almost never chose the heroin water, resulting in no overdoses, no deaths. Hari then compares this to humans returning from the Vietnam war. Troops were using loads of heroin, but when they came back, almost all of them just stopped. So how come some scientists argue that there are chemical hooks in drugs if these soldiers were able to stop? If the drug can’t be blamed for addiction, should the addict be blamed? When the veterans returned home, they had work, they had families, they had responsibilities. This wasn’t the case for all, but for many life continued. Fast forward to today in Portugal where they decriminalized drugs and spent money on reconnecting addicts to society again and were very successful. The key was the reconnection for both the veterans and the Portuguese addicts, and even the rats in Rat Park.
The interesting thing about Johann’s Ted Talk is that his goal was simply to help his friends suffering with addiction, not to find all this history and social and political nuanced ideas. His final message was that if you want to help someone with addiction, don’t threaten the relationship – offer unconditional support. It’s not easy, but that is what will truly heal them. While this Ted Talk is ultimately much more a scientific and historical commentary on addiction, it can be a personal story too. It’s hard to imagine sometimes, but we are constantly surrounded by activities and substances that can be very addictive, whether they be drugs, alcohol, or even addiction to technology. It takes more than one person to overcome the lure of addiction. The only reason they ever started in the first place was to relieve pain. Instead of letting a drug or technology act as pain relief, try something that humans have been doing for centuries. Invest more time in the personal relationships because that is what heals addicts and that is what takes away pain.
Watch the Ted Talk to really get a sense of what journalist Johann Hari wants to communicate about addiction.