A Different Perspective on Addiction

November 24, 2017
Anna Jankowska, LCPC

By Anna Jankowska, MA, CEAP, SAP, LCPC

Anna Jankowska is a mental health, addiction, and substance abuse counselor with over 17 years of experience and has specialized training and skill in working with individuals, groups and communities to improve mental health outcomes. NPI number: 1598843526

By CCI Team

Even without going into the science of addiction, I’ve found that many still have a hard time grasping the concept of a drug, alcohol, or substance related addiction, let alone society’s addiction to media. In conversation, many have responded to my face, “Why can’t someone just choose to stop drinking so much?”, and each time I shake my head with pity because there is so much more to it. To get to a point where one’s body is so dependent on the substance and that their brain is remapped completely to expect fulfillment this way, is a phenomenon that cannot just be “switched off.” But what causes addiction? Sit here for a second and think about it. What factors are in play here?

In an article posted on Huffington Post, Johann Hari gives an alternative look at what a likely cause of a drug addiction can be. In theory, if 20 people were to take a potent drug for 20 days and then stop on the 21st, their bodies would be in shock. The chemicals would have their bodies so hooked that it absolutely needed the drugs to function. The article continues by explaining how this theory was tested by Professor Bruce Alexander of Vancouver, through rat experiments.  Lacing the water with heroin, a rat would become obsessed with the heroin laced water rather than regular water, and would continue to go back for more of this spiked water until death. However, when rats were placed in an environment where there were other rats, majority of them shunned the water while the rats who were alone and unhappy, became heavy users.

The author then explains something interesting – a human equivalent to this experiment as the Vietnam war. According to solid evidence, Time magazine compared heroin usage of soldiers to be as common as chewing gum. About 20% of U.S soldiers were addicted to heroin there. However, once the war ended and the soldiers headed home, 95% of them simply stopped heroin usage and very few went to/needed rehab. The author states, “They shifted from a terrifying cage back to a pleasant one, so they didn’t want the drug anymore.” While there are arguments on both sides that address addiction as a chemically hijacked brain, or as morals failing from hedonistic partying, this Alexander argues that addiction is an adaptation. In other words, “it’s not you. It’s your cage.” In a scenario where a medical patient is in intensive pain and must receive diamorphine (heroin), and another where a street addict has the same access to the drug, the patient will go home with very little, if not any withdrawal symptoms or addiction, whereas the street addict as no one to turn to, is isolated, and alone and will succumb to addiction. In the medical environment, the drug is the same and even more potent, but the environment is different than that of the street addict, creating a completely different outcome for the two heroin users.

Overall, the author articulates that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but is human connection. Creating a system that is designed to help drug addicts to reconnect with the world will not only allow them to leave behind their addictions but also keep them out of jail, or unhospitable surroundings.

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