16. Addict: Everyone’s addicted to something in some shape or form. What are things you can’t go without?
You can become addicted to anything it seems. Booze, drugs, food, sex, technology. Emphasis on the technology. We walk around with our phones strapped to our body having no idea what to do without them. I am no exception to this rule. It really feels like I would be unable to go without, not just a phone but a smart phone. A phone where any answer is a google search away.
But why do we become addicted to different substances? And why do some people stay addicted? Being that I am not much of a science buff I decided to take some time and do a little surface research to brush up. My general thoughts about addiction were that some substances were more addictive than others and I should stay away from those substances or I would get hooked too. The general consensus on addiction in the scientific community is the “brain disease” model. Basically this means that certain substances help release dopamine in the brain, which leads to happy humans. But drugs release a larger amount of dopamine which makes it harder to regain a natural balance, this is why we experience splitting headaches the day after a party. When our brain stops producing dopamine in a regular pattern we then develop a physical dependency on whatever is the supplier of our new high.
Makes sense right? While looking for more information about addiction I found this TED talk with Johann Hari, and he introduced a new view. To him addiction is not about chemical hooks, it is about environment and adaptation. To support his claim on environments Hari uses the example of the Vietnam War. It was discovered that 20% of service men had become addicted to heroin during the war. Naturally people panicked. These men were going to come home from the war with serious issues, and we had to figure out how to help them. But when they returned home none of them wanted help. In fact, 95% of those men were able to quit without any rehabilitation. This completely contradicts what we believe about addiction.
Addiction is more than just chemical make up, it is about the relationships in our lives. Hari says, “the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it is connection.” That sentence really struck a chord in me. How do we stay present in our lives? How do we keep something that we like from becoming something we depend on? And if we shift in our thinking that addiction can be aided by connection what else will have to change in order to support that idea? The label of being an addict follows individuals around, it is the shadow that they cast. Because of this label we automatically separate those “addicted” from those who are not. Addiction is synonymous with criminal, with shame. A problem that we like to blame on a weakness of character instead of a weakness in a greater system.
We are increasingly becoming a society that is devoid of human connection. Why talk when we can send an email or text message? Why go out when we have created a virtual community? We have become content with superficial connections, but we are in need of the deeper bonds that are forged in the small moments. Without those bonds we are vulnerable to the environment around us that grows increasingly toxic.
Addiction is no simple problem and has no simple solution. What I love about this TED talk is that it opens the conversation on a topic that we often try to avoid. I hope that it gives you something to think about, and that you will begin to research on your own.