(Author’s Note: I know there are actual differences in the terms of
“abstinence”, “sobriety”, and “recovery”. But for the purpose of this article, I’m
lumping the three terms together and using the word “sober/sobriety” to mean
any of those three things. Furthermore, this article is based on https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-real-cause-of-addicti_b_6506936)
Those of us in addition recovery know it well
– the opposite of addiction is sobriety.
This is why almost every addict first showed up at a 12-Step support
group – to find a way to quit addictive behavior… to become sober.
But what if the opposite of addiction isn’t
sobriety? If it isn’t, then what is?
First, a quick background on addiction. This
stigma about addiction started with the scientific community, according to www.drugabuse.gov. In the 1930s, it was thought that addicts were
“morally flawed or lacking in willpower.” Overcoming addiction usually involved
punishment or encouraging willpower to break the habit.
Later research showed that with any
addiction, the brain reacts the same way – the pleasure an addiction gets from
the addictive substance/behavior increases dopamine much more than in a
non-addict’s brain when experiencing the same pleasure.
This was “proven” by experiments made popular
during the “War on Drugs” campaign. In these experiments, rats were put alone
in small cages with two bottles of water: one drug-laced and the other plain
water. Each rat chose to drink the drug-laced water until it overdosed. This
idea was generalized to all addictions.
But in the ’70s, one scientist, Bruce
Alexander, decided to test another theory. His thinking was that, of course, the
rats would want drugs… they had nothing else to do. So, he set up a similar
experiment with very different conditions.
He got one huge cage with 20 rats of both
genders. He added good food, places to mate and raise young, and stimulating
toys and activities. He included the same two bottles of water. What he saw was
very different than the results of the first experiment. These rats who had a
social outlet and various types of stimulation preferred plain water.
He theorized that human connection is the opposite of addiction. As the author
of this article isn’t a scientist and also doesn’t have time to plow through
the many scholarly articles about the implications of this finding, I’ll leave
it to you to form your own inferences of how this affects long-term recovery.
I want you to know that this was
mind-blowing to me. I know the power of support groups by just seeing the
success stories in local support groups I’ve attended. I know that addiction is
a disease of isolation – and of course, the opposite of isolation is
socialization. I also realize that humans are much, much more complex than rats
and that’s why a support group alone won’t bring sobriety. But to see it played
out by a bunch of rats blew me away.
I’ll go out on a limb and say that long-term
sobriety won’t ever come without it – this human connection.
One more quick thing I have learned about the
power of being connected…
Estimated rates of PTSD have increased in war
veterans from about 5% after WWII to 15-20% for the more recent wars, according
to an article titled “U.S. Wars and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.”
The takeaway… Put a priority and
getting and staying connected. Your recovery may depend on it.
What was the difference? Though there are many possibilities for this
change, at least one speculated difference was that in WWII, the soldiers came
home by boat. They had weeks to talk about their experiences with others who
understood. However, in modern times, soldiers are home within a day, by plane.
They go from a very traumatic situation to regular life without anyone to
listen to and empathize with about what they’ve experienced. This lack of being
heard very likely made a major difference in their future mental health.
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