With congenial company and interesting toys to play with and activities to do, laboratory rodents are really not obsessively interested in pushing a lever to get cocaine. This is what Prof. Bruce Alexander demonstrated with his Rat Park.
A happy, busy rat is a non-addicted rat, and to a certain extent, this is true of humans as well. Absorbing activities and peer relationships help an entity to steer away from the temptations of involvement with substances, whether those substances are problem foods or harmful drugs.
For The Huffington Post, Johann Hari relates the agreement of Prof. Peter Cohen that human beings have a deep need to attain satisfaction from bonding and forming connections:
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.
In other words, sobriety is not the opposite of addiction, but human connection is. Hari describes his observations at a meeting of Gamblers’ Anonymous where the participants “were as plainly addicted as the cocaine and heroin addicts I have known in my life.” How is this possible, when no hypodermic syringes are present, and no powder is being snorted?
The prescription needed, he concludes, is not an antagonist drug, but reconnection with the world. He quotes Prof. Alexander, who…
[…] told me that for too long, we have talked exclusively about individual recovery from addiction. We need now to talk about social recovery — how we all recover, together, from the sickness of isolation that is sinking on us like a thick fog.
In developing the WeightLoss2Go smartphone application, Dr. Pretlow has been sensitive to the importance of social activities and interactions. Peer support and face-to-face meetings are parts of the program, which is designed to foster openness, camaraderie, and connection. The app includes the ability to work with a mentor, a section on distractions, a program for fostering self-esteem, and a peer support area, all of which contribute to the creation of a life that is full of satisfactions other than food and overeating.
A wrinkle in the narrative
Heroin addiction has formerly been regarded as a virtual death sentence, impossible to escape. In the words of Dr. Sanjay Gupta, it was…
[…] scientifically regarded as one of the most dangerously addictive drugs on the planet, in terms of dependence, withdrawal, tolerance, reinforcement and intoxication. Relapse is almost guaranteed…
Hari describes addiction as neither a moral failing nor a disease, but an adaptation. This relates to the widely known saying of Krishnamurti: “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” People strive to avoid the above-mentioned “sickness of isolation that is sinking on us like a thick fog.” The methods by which addicts go about it may be difficult for others to understand, but in their own way, they too are also looking for a better life.
This brings us to an interesting and crucial difference between different kinds of addicts. Hari cites Dr. Gabor Mate, who explained to him that,
[…] medical users just stop, despite months of use. The same drug, used for the same length of time, turns street-users into desperate addicts — and leaves medical patients unaffected.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think,” HuffingtonPost.com, 04/18/17
Source: “Vietnam, heroin and the lesson of disrupting any addiction,” CNN.com, 12/22/15
Photo credit: Pai Shih on Visualhunt/CC BY