Johann Eduard Hari, a renown British journalist, upended the mainstream commercial addiction paradigm at his most recent Ted Talk with some alarming facts and figures. Having witnessed the countless stories of addicts recover, only to relapse a short time later Hari sought to understand the reasons behind this tendency. This desire to get to the bottom of the facts and uncover the truth about addiction lead him on a personal quest around the world where he met some fascinating individuals in the process.
Is the current paradigm regarding addiction tragically misinformed? For instance, one tidbit Hari mentions is the erroneous belief that certain drugs, like heroin have a chemical component in them that causes the addiction on a physiological and psychological level. The main factor being the creation of a physical dependence that results in withdrawal symptoms and agonizing pain when not using the drug.
Although there is certainly a chemical factor at play, there has been a neglect of some of the psychological components such as consciousness and our relationship with the world, which as we all know too well can be complicated. Traumatic childhood episodes and our socioeconomic status have significant impact on our decisions to use and abuse drugs and alcohol.
“The first thing that alerted me to the fact that there’s something not right with this story was the fact that, if I step out of this TED talk today and get hit by a car and I break my hip, I’ll be taken to the hospital and be given loads of diamorphin. Diamorphin is heroin. It is medically pure, better than the stuff you get on the streets. You’ll be given it for quite a long period of time, there are loads of people in this room who may not realize that you’ve taken quite a lot of herion, and if what we believe about addiction is right, those people are exposed to all of those chemical hooks, what should happen? They should become addicts. This has been studied very carefully, it doesn’t happen. You would have noticed if your grandmother had a hip replacement, she didn’t come out as a junkie. When I learned this, it was just so contrary to everything I’ve been taught, to everything I thought I knew.”
Then he illustrates the frame of thought that went on to perpetuate this misperception and further reinforce it among the addiction community as the common application for rehabilitation. An experiment was conducted years ago, the results of which were interpreted incorrectly, which lead to the status quo espoused now. In the experiment a rat was placed in a cage with two options, drug infused water and regular water. The experiment noted that literally every occasion without fail the rat chose the drug infused water as opposed to the regular water. What was not addressed in that study was the environment that the rats were placed.
If the rats were given a healthy environment where they could exercise, play, eat and enjoy the companionship of a community while still being exposed with the choice of the two waters they then went on to choose the regular water versus the adulterated sample.
Could there be something more to our emotions being tied to our environments than previously expected? Should we be placing a premium on the importance of social ties and recreation? Is there some credence to the belief that our perceptions shape our life experiences? Is there a spiritual and mental component to all of this that needs to be examined as well?
“I believe the core part of addiction is, and what I think the evidence suggests, is about not being able to bear to be present in your life.”
The underlying theme behind this particular Ted Talk is the despair behind the human condition. Addiction is at the crux of the problem with people looking for anything outside themselves to occupy their mind and body. Addictions to drugs, porn, shopping, materialism and anything that temporarily dulls the pain of having a life that doesn’t hold deep meaning. We are bombarded with relentless imagery from media and advertising campaigns that make us think we need the latest fad and trends. What is our real purpose on this planet? It surely can’t be to consume and use up all our natural resources. It can’t be this idea of being indoctrinated in a system that has us go to school our entire lives only to have to pay off our debts from school by working the rest of our lives in a job we hate.
The truly unfortunate aspect of all of this is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Human beings need to dramatically shift their understanding and place in the world. We don’t have to be living in discord with our natural settings. What is your stance and position regarding this particular issue? Share your thoughts and chime in on the comments section below.