Welcome to week eight of ‘Top Talks’ – a segment where I do a show-and-tell of my favourite speeches, talks or lectures.
I am a strong believer in continuous improvement – which to me, means finding and listening to people who have an array of different values, beliefs and ideas, and sharing them with others!
WHO IS JOHANN HARI?
Johann Hari is a published author, with his two books ‘Lost Connections: Why You’re Depressed and How to Find Hope‘ and ‘Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs‘ making the New York Times Best-Sellers List.
What I got out of this ‘Top Talk’:
Johann Hari’s TED Talk was significant for me. I have experienced first hand how easy it is to fall into a vicious cycle of addiction, and have watched loved ones suffer the consequences. Addiction is something that anyone can fall victim to, and it has a domino effect on the people trying to support, help or even find empathy for someone who is struggling with dependency-related issues.
There have been countless news articles, reports and studies on drug epidemics in all corners of the world, from crack cocaine, methamphetamine and more controversially (and prevalent), prescription medication. Johann Hari highlights some of the ideas we potentially need to unlearn about addiction, as well as shedding light on some of the reasons people become drug-dependent.
THE IDEA IN OUR HEADS OF ‘ADDICTS’ NEEDS TO CHANGE
Sometimes it’s easy to pass drug-addicted people off as ‘junkies’, ‘low-lives’, ‘bludgers’ or ‘criminals’. While these words can be used to describe some people suffering from addiction, it would be incorrect to assume this is the majority. In fact, it is far more common for people to be addicted to prescription medication than to banned illicit substances. And although it is appealing to write off all addicts as a waste of space, punish them, send them to jail and let society make them suffer to serve as a deterrent, Hari offers an insight into why that makes the issue worse, rather than better.
Hari suggests that addiction shouldn’t even be called addiction at all. He delved into the idea that perhaps the ‘chemical hooks’ we’re used to hearing about that cause addiction aren’t actually there.
Hari gives the example of war veterans who used heroin daily during combat, then coming home and not being addicts. Or, closer to home, how your grandma may have hip surgery and take heavy medication (stronger and purer than heroin you find on the streets) for the pain for long periods of time, but not become an addict.
So if ‘chemical hooks’ were real, why isn’t my grandma an addict? She’s had more joint replacements in her 98 years on Earth than most people I know. And that was the question scientists asked too. And it has more to do with our environment than anything else.
Hari speaks about Professor Bruce Alexander, and the experiment he conducted to prove his point. In the experiment, a rat is placed in a cage and given two water bottles – one with water, one with cocaine or heroin. The rat almost always chooses the drug-laced water, slowly killing itself.
But then, the professor conducted the same experiment, except this time he placed lots of fun things for the rat to do in its cage – toys to play with, cheese to eat, tunnels etc. and most importantly, the rat has friends. And in this cage, the rats almost never drink the drug-water.
Hari suggests that addiction is about your ‘cage’. He suggest that addiction should be called bonding. Humans have a desire to bond – usually with each other. But when we are lonely, isolated and marginalized, we bond with other things that make us feel better. Like gambling, pornography or drugs.
WHAT DOES MY ‘CAGE’ LOOK LIKE?
The second thing this talk did for me was make me look around at my ‘cage’. What was I bonded to? What made me feel better? And it became crystal clear to me that ‘addiction’ as a word doesn’t shine light on the loneliness of people’s lives in the same way that other words like ‘bonding’ do.
Where human bonds fail, artificial bonds form.
The rise in drug use mirrors the rise in loneliness expressed by so many people, implicitly and explicitly. The people seeking affirmation in the form of ‘likes’ on Facebook. The amount of time people spend trying to look richer, thinner, stronger and smarter than others – all at the cost of real human connection.
Disconnection is everywhere we look. So who are we turning away, labeling them as ‘addicts’, instead of offering connection? Are there people in your life that are seeking connection in an unhealthy form – and if so – are you offering a healthier one?
… the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.Johann Hari