Almost everything we
think we know about
addiction is wrong.


Drug addiction comes from a
physical dependency, right? Nope.
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There is a catch. Almost everything we think we know about addiction is wrong. If you, for example, break your hip, you’ll be taken to a hospital, and you’ll be given loads of diamorphine for weeks or even months. Diamorphine is heroin. It’s in fact much stronger heroin than any addict can get on the street, because it’s not contaminated by all the stuff drug dealers dilute it with. There are people near you being given loads of deluxe heroin in hospitals right now. So at least some of them should become addicts. But this has been closely studied. It doesn’t happen. Your grandmother wasn’t turned into a junkie by her hip replacement. Why is that? Our current theory of addiction comes in part from a series of experiments that were carried out earlier in the twentieth century.


That assumption was based on a simple experiment. A rat in a cage, with water and heroin.
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The experiment is simple. You take a rat, and put it in a cage with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself. But in the 1970s, Bruce Alexander, a Professor of Psychology 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?


Most of the rats killed themselves
from an overdose.

BUT Professor Bruce Alexander noticed something. The rats were all alone. They had nothing else to do. Read Article

In the 70s the scientist Bruce Alexanders built a rat park with everything a rat about town could want. And voilà overdoses vanished. Read More

Bruce Alexanders built a Rat Park – which is, basically, heaven for rats. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls, tunnels to scamper down, plenty of friends to play and they could have loads of sex: everything a rat about town could want. And they would have the drugged water, and the normal water bottles. But here’s the fascinating thing. In Rat Park, rats hardly ever use the drugged water. None of them ever use it compulsively. None of them ever overdose. But maybe this is a quirk of rats, right? Well, helpfully, there was a human experiment along the same lines: The Vietnam War.


Not convinced? In Vietnam 20% of American troops used but 95% of them just stopped after they got home to their loved ones.
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20 percent of American troops in Vietnam were using a lot of heroin. People back home were really panicked because they thought there would be hundreds of thousands of junkies on the streets of the United States when the war was over. But a study followed the soldiers home and found something striking: They didn’t go to rehab. They didn’t even go into withdrawal. 95 percent of them just stopped after they got home.


90% of drug use does not lead to addiction. It's trauma, life crisis or isolation that lead to an unhealthy bond with behaviours or drugs.
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If you believe the old theory of addiction, that makes no sense. But if you believe professor Alexanders theory, it makes perfect sense. Because if you’re put into a horrific jungle in a foreign country where you don’t want to be, and you could be forced to kill or die at any moment doing heroine is a great way to spend your time. But if you go back to your nice home with your friends and your family, it’s the equivalent of being taken out of that first cage, and put into a human rat Park. It’s not the chemicals. It’s your cage. 90% of drug use does not lead to addiction.

We need to think about addiction differently. Human beings have an innate need to bond, and connect. When we are happy and healthy, we will bond with the people around us. But when we can’t – because we’re traumatized, isolated, or beaten down by life – we will bond with something that gives us some sense of relief.


A contented person bonds with other people. But when you can't do that, you will bond with something that gives you some sense of relief.

 It might be endlessly checking
your smart-phone…



 Or drugs.

To fight Addiction. We have to rethink our approach.

Because the opposite of addiction isn‘t sobriety. The opposite of addiction is social connection.
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The path out of unhealthy bonds is to form healthy bonds. To be connected to people you want to be present with. Addiction is just one symptom of the crisis of disconnection that is happening all around us. We all feel it. Since the 1950s, the average number of close friends an American has been steadily declining. At the same time, the average amount of floorspace in their homes has been steadily increasing. And that’s what our culture has pressed us to do. To choose floorspace over friends; to choose stuff, over connection.

For too long, we have talked only about individual recovery from addiction. But we need now to talk about social recovery – because something has gone wrong with us as a group. We have to build a society that looks a lot more like Rat Park, and a lot less like those isolated cages. We are going to have to change the unnatural way we live – and rediscover each other.

The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is social connection.