Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Opposite of Addiction

 (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

 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.govIn[RC1]  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[RC2] .”

 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. 

The takeaway… Put a priority and getting and staying connected. Your recovery may depend on it.                                                 


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