A benefit of connection that blew my mind

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In my blog from Wednesday, I talked about the connections made within a community. A very interesting article then showed up in my world regarding the role of community and addiction.
I have always been interested in how drugs affect the brain. I started college pre-med because I wanted to be a coroner. When organic chemistry and calculus threw me into a tail-spin, I had to switch majors. I decided instead of solving the mysteries of why people died, I would focus on the mysteries of people’s minds, so I switched to Psychology. My intent was to be an alcohol and drug counselor, so I studied a lot about drugs and the effects on the brain and body, which I found fascinating. Long story short, I figured out you couldn’t make a lot of money being a counselor (my priority as a monetarily and spiritually poor student). So I stayed in banking and finance, but never lost my interest in the complexities of addiction.
Fast forward to the now, and heroin use in my state and the surrounding states, is a daily topic. More and more people are getting addicted to heroin and experiencing the devastating effects it can have on the individual as well as loved ones. Whenever I read an article on the heroin issue, or an addict’s recovery process, I always think to myself, “What makes a person want to do heroin?” I have never wanted to do heroin, and I didn’t know why, although I am thankful for the absence of the desire. Then I came across the aforementioned article.
The blog appeared on http://www.huffingtonpost.com, written by Johann Hari, entitled, “The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think”. Johann went on a 30,000 mile journey to figure out what is really driving the drug war in order to write his book, Chasing the Scream: The First And Last Days of the War on Drugs. He reviewed many studies on drugs, even the one some of us may have heard of—put a rat in a cage with two bottles, one with just water and the other with water laced with cocaine or heroin. The rat can’t stop drinking the water laced with the drug and eventually it kills itself. He continues:
“But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?
In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.
The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did. “
After citing a few other examples, Johann comes to this conclusion:
“This gives us an insight that goes much deeper than the need to understand addicts. Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.
So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.”
Whoa! This was extremely interesting to me. Why didn’t I have the urge to do heroin, or any other drug for that matter? Because I always had a strong community with connections based on trust, love and support. Would things have been different if my family life was not supportive? If I didn’t have a group of friends in high school and college that were there for me? If I didn’t have work groups, social groups, etc. that were authentic and loving? It is something to ponder.
But what about the celebrities who get hooked on drugs and eventually succumb? Those like Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse? They have everything, right? Adoring fans, fame and fortune. I believe they could not make the connections necessary to really feel a part of any community. Could be it stemmed from childhood, could be that those around them were not exactly genuine and had ulterior motives, could be a lot of things. But from what I can recall, most of these people died alone.
Now this is not to say that you should never be by yourself-we all need that alone time. Alone time when you maintain connections is good—alone time with no connections can lead down some dangerous roads. The community does not have to be that large, but it does need to be genuine and loving to make the right kind of connections.
I’m sure there are other reasons why I didn’t become a drug addict, but this reason really resonates with my spiritual side. If you are connected and in community you can thrive, be creative, LIVE a purposeful life. How are you living? Do you have a strong community with authentic connections? If not, it may be time to reach out. And maybe you know of someone who is struggling. Perhaps you could reach out to them. Small steps can have a major impact—maybe even life-saving.
Read Johann’s full blog at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/johann-hari/the-real-cause-of-addicti_b_6506936.html

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