Addiction is a complex issue that grows with every new research or discovery. Many people have jumped in on the conversation and as experts and onlookers throughout the years try to make sense of this condition, differing theories and viewpoints have cropped up—some more extreme than others.
Here are 5 of the most radical statements made about addiction over the past 20 years.
1. “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.”
In 1970, Bruce Alexander, a Psychology professor in Vancouver, conducted research on rats and tested their reaction to drugged water in two different types of environments: happy and unhappy. What he discovered was surprising. According to his findings, isolated rats kept in bare cages were quickly addicted to the substances while rats that were in stimulating environments with other fellow rats rejected the drugs and had a significant physical resistance to developing addiction. Alexander then concluded that addiction is not merely a chemical reaction in the brain to a particular substance but an adaptation due to the indisputable human need to bond and form connections.
Fast forward 45 years and we’re still playing with the same idea. In British author and journalist Johann Hari’s 2015 book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, he claims that “everything we have been told about addiction is wrong” and that, in fact, “a core part of addiction is about not being able to bear to be present in your life.”
Hari suggests that the real driver of addiction is actually our human need to bond and have connections. If we’re not able to do so, we will inevitably form connections with something else — anything else, including substances. A game-changing point of view, this proposal forces society to consider drug addiction as something more than just a chemical reaction or an incurable disease. If proven true, this perspective can impact the future of treatment and our approach to long-term recovery, as well as shape our views on human connection in society as a whole.
2. “Addiction is a behavioral problem, but not a medical one.”
According to developmental neurologist and recovered addict Dr. Marc Lewis, the way to recovery is through willpower and motivation. Unlike conventional beliefs on treating addicted individuals, Dr. Lewis states, “The whole campaign to see addiction as a disease is that it works against people’s sense of empowerment. If you have a disease, you’re a patient …Then if you do get into treatment, you’re putting yourself in somebody else’s hands.”
Many who enter substance abuse treatment are quick to blame their past, their environment, their family or their friends. Lewis’s viewpoint requires the person to take responsibility for their own actions and behavior. After going through his personal battle with substance abuse, he proposes “the best way to combat addiction is through setting different goals for yourself and setting your own goals.”
3. “What makes some people more likely to rise to the top is same thing that makes them more likely to be addicts.”
David Linden, PhD is a neuroscience professor at Johns Hopkins’ School of Medicine and author of The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Goods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good. He also holds the unusual perspective on addiction that the same set of traits that make highly prosperous people also make “good addicts.”
In his research, he argues that people with a higher risk for addiction also have a higher drive to achieve pleasure in life. This is the skill set that gets someone to be the CEO of a company or, in the case of substance use, gets someone addicted to substances. In the end, the core of it all is pleasure-seeking and reward. This, of course, does not suggest that young prodigies and bright entrepreneurs are all destined to become addicts. Rather, it creates awareness of the qualities that may influence choices and actions when exposed to behaviors that are harmful.
4. “Treatment does not need to be voluntary to be effective.”
It was once believed that an addict has to hit rock bottom and be willing to accept treatment before they can be helped. However, there are several experts who say the idea isn’t true. In a 2012 research-based guide Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition) published by The National Institute on Drug Abuse, it states that “penalties from family, employment settings, and/or the criminal justice system can significantly increase treatment entry, retention rates and the ultimate success of drug treatment interventions.”
This outlook provides a glimmer of hope for some friends and family members. With this logic, if a successful intervention can compel their loved one into rehabilitation, then there is a possibility for recovery. No longer do they have to abide by the old adage “you can only help someone who wants to be helped” because this new idea suggests that external factors outside of the individual can also make a significant difference.
5. "The addicted brain is distinctly different from the non-addicted brain.”
Evidence, including information provided by The National Institute on Drug Abuse, has identified that drug abuse actually alters the brain’s structure and function, resulting in changes that persists long after exposure to the substance has stopped. This may explain why drug abusers are at risk for relapse even after long periods of abstinence and despite the potentially devastating consequences. Alan Leshner, the former director of NIDA, even wrote in a 1997 Science article: “That addiction is tied to changes in brain structure and function is what makes it, fundamentally, a brain disease.”
William M. Taylor, MSW, oversees the Houston Council for Drug and Alcohol Abuse and sums up this theory as the following: “When we frame addiction as a chronic disease, we begin to think in terms of a life-long effort to control certain vulnerabilities. ‘Managing’ becomes the operative term – as it is with other chronic conditions. There’s no saying, ’28 days, check out, and you’re cured.'”
Do you agree or disagree with any of the statements above? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.