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Disconnection and Drug Addiction Recovery

Role of Relational Healing in Drug Addiction Recovery

What really causes addiction? Why aren’t addiction recovery methods working to overcome it? Why do we treat addiction patients the way we do? Is there a better way? To help, Johann Hari set out to find the answers to these questions after he watched his loved ones struggle to manage their addictions. In 2015, Hari delivered a deeply personal TEDTalk in which he shared his discoveries.

Johann Hari: a TEDTalk for the books

The research aspect of Hari’s TEDTalk explores the “Rat Park” study, Bruce K. Alexander’s 1970’s experiment at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. Specifically, the experiment sought to correct shortcomings in previous addiction studies. Before, rats were isolated in tiny cages and proceeded to kill themselves with overdoses of morphine solution.

Instead, the Canadian scientists built a “rat park” which created an inviting, socially-rich environment for the rats. The results were that rats in the park did not become addicted to opium and none of them overdosed. This led Alexander to a new theory of drug addiction recovery. So, as Hari explains, “What if addiction isn’t about your chemical hooks? What if addiction is about your cage? Human beings have a natural and innate need to bond, and when we’re happy and healthy, we’ll bond and connect with each other, but if you can’t do that, because you’re traumatized or isolated or beaten down by life, you will bond with something that will give you some sense of relief.”

In addition to this research, Hari explains observations from the decriminalization of drugs in Portugal and the success that the country has experienced by committing funding—formerly spent on the war on drugs—on community-based therapies.

Hari’s final line is this: “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety; the opposite of addiction is connection.” The implication of Hari’s TEDTalk is that the issue underlying drug addiction recovery is social isolation, not the addictive nature of drugs.

Reflections On Addiction Recovery According to Hari

So, along with his helpful insights, we had a few reservations about some of Hari’s underlying assumptions regarding addiction recovery and addiction recovery centers.

  • It is patently false to deny that addiction has a very real physical component. Concerning this, Hari oversimplifies the situation. Genetics, according to CASA, account for 50-75% of the risk for addiction. However, this real physical component can be understood in addition to its sociological roots.
  • It could be irresponsible to speak to a general audience about the need to deepen relationships with the addicts in their lives without an accompanying warning about addicts’ tendencies toward deception, ignoring boundaries, and seeking enablement.
  • It already seems to be increasingly recognized that there is a vast need for greater funding of better drug addiction recovery treatment. Furthermore, Hari’s observations from Portugal may be insights that the U.S. government has already noted. In October 2015, President Obama made it a keystone of his $133 million federal program to combat heroin use. With this, he focused on expanding access to medically assisted opioid addiction treatments.

What We Took Away

Hari’s newly formed empathy for the addicts in his life is the most compelling point of Hari’s TEDTalk. He explains the invitation he extends to the addicts in his own life to reach out to him for companionship. “And what I’ve tried to do now… is to say to the addicts in my life that I want to deepen the connection with them, to say to them, I love you whether you’re using or you’re not. I love you, whatever state you’re in. If you need me, I’ll come and sit with you because I love you. I don’t want you to be alone or to feel alone.

Therefore, if clinicians take anything away from this TEDTalk, it should be a desire to explore the role of relational healing in drug addiction treatment methods.

In Conclusion

At Lighthouse, we recognize the major role that our patient’s community plays in recovery. To do this, we associate family support with increased success in treatment and lasting recovery. As a result, RCA strongly encourages and supports family involvement and healing. RCA staff will brief our patient’s community on many topics. These include what to expect, what treatments their loved one will be receiving and what avenues are available for the loved ones to begin engaging in treatment themselves.

Finally, after watching, let us know your thoughts on Hari’s experiences by commenting below. If you or someone you know needs assistance in overcoming drug addiction, please contact RCA at 1-800-RECOVERY.



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