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The Opposite Of Addiction is Connection

By Jonathan Davis on Friday July 17th, 2015

Do Stronger Human Connections Immunise Us Against Emotional Distress?

Right now an exciting new perspective on addiction is emerging. Johann Harri, author of Chasing The Scream, recently captured widespread public interest with his Ted talk Everything You Know About Addiction Is Wrong, where he concluded with this powerful statement:

The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection. – Johann Harri

These sentiments are augmented by a growing number of experts, including addiction specialist Dr Gabor Maté, who cites ’emotional loss and trauma’ as the core of addiction. Compare this ’emotional loss’ to Johan Harri’s idea about lack of connection and it is clear they’re talking about a similar emotional condition.

Limbic Resonance

If connection is the opposite of addiction, then an examination of the neuroscience of human connection is in order. Published in 2000, A General Theory Of Love is a collaboration between three professors of psychiatry at the University of California in San Francisco. A General Theory Of Love reveals that humans require social connection for optimal brain development, and that babies cared for in a loving environment are psychological and neurologically ‘immunised’ by love. When things get difficult in adult life, the neural wiring developed from a love-filled childhood leads to increased emotional resilience in adult life. Conversely, those who grow up in an environment where loving care is unstable or absent are less likely to be resilient in the face of emotional distress.


How does this relate to addiction? Gabor Maté observes an extremely high rate of childhood trauma in the addicts he works with and trauma is the extreme opposite of growing up in a consistently safe and loving environment. He asserts that it is extremely common for people with addictions to have a reduced capacity for dealing with emotional distress, hence an increased risk of drug-dependence.

Humans require social connection“Humans require social connection”

How Our Ability To Connect Is Impaired By Trauma

Trauma is well-known to cause interruption to healthy neural wiring, in both the developing and mature brain. A deeper issue here is that people who have suffered trauma, particularly children, can be left with an underlying sense that the world is no longer safe, or that people can no longer be trusted. This erosion (or complete destruction) of a sense of trust, that our family, community and society will keep us safe, results in isolation – leading to the very lack of connection Johann Harri suggests is the opposite of addiction. People who use drugs compulsively do so to avoid the pain of past trauma and to replace the absence of connection in their life.

Social Solutions To Addiction

The solution to the problem of addiction on a societal level is both simple and fairly easy to implement. If a person is born into a life that is lacking in love and support on a family level, or if due to some other trauma they have become isolated and suffer from addiction, there must be a cultural response to make sure that person knows that they are valued by their society (even if they don’t feel valued by their family). Portugal has demonstrated this with a 50% drop in addiction thanks to programs that are specifically designed to re-create connection between the addict and their community.

Human connection is crucial in in the immediate task of clearing trauma“Human connection is crucial in in the immediate task of clearing trauma”

Personal Solutions To Addiction

“Ask not why the addiction, but why the pain.”
– Gabor Maté

Recreating bonds is essential in the long term, but human connection is crucial in in the immediate task of clearing trauma. When a person decides to finally face and feel the pain that they may have been avoiding for years or decades, the first steps cannot be done alone.

“You have to be with that pain, but you have to have support.”
– Gabor Maté

This support is essentially the reintroduction of the care and support which is so important in creating the neural structure of emotional-resilience in early life. By doing so, we begin to replace what was missing, and thanks to the revelations of neuroplasticity we now know that you can in fact teach an old dog new tricks; neural rewiring is possible in adult life. Though it is essential for addicts to feel supported in order to finally face and feel the pain they have been trying to avoid, this is ultimately an inner journey that must be taken by the individual.

“Whatever you do, don’t try and escape from your pain, but be with it. Because the attempt to escape from pain creates more pain.”
The Tibetan Book Of Living And Dying

The Roots Of Healing

When we are young, our parents care for us until we are able to do it for ourselves, after all they won’t be there to do it for us forever. Perhaps, on an emotional level this is also true: our parents love us so that we may learn to do it for ourselves. The programs in Portugal have demonstrated that addicts do remarkably well when they feel valued by their community. Whether they realise it or not, the Portuguese are creating positive limbic modelling by valuing the addicts so they can learn to value themselves. When people are there to provide loving support for an addict wishing to face the emotional pain they carry, they are loving them and caring for them until they can learn do love themselves. With this in mind, perhaps the neural-wiring of emotional resilience developed through the loving reflection of another, once fully developed, could simply be called self-love.

Johann Hari: Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong

Feature Image: Excerpt of an Artwork by Cameron Gray.

How do you feel about this article? Join the conversation.

Jonathan Davis

Amplifying personal healing and growth for collective evolution.

 

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newest oldest most voted
Bryhre Kim Cormack
Guest
Bryhre Kim Cormack

The neural circuitry can be rewired. Healing can occur at any age, in connection.

Tanya Lee
Guest
Tanya Lee

Very interesting, wish our society in America would take turn in this direction. Maybe then we wouldn’t have overpopulated prisons, jails and so many children in foster care there is a shortage of homes for them….

Andrea
Guest
Andrea

Brilliant what type of assistance can you give to someone that is not addicted to any drug although you know that they suffer similar pain just tucking it away which in turn I feel creates illness within the body I would be very interested as I know this particular person quite well and am at a loss as how to help ?

Michael
Guest
Michael

Well they gave you the answer, “love”. Personally I feel unloved and unwanted, a failure, something must be wrong with me to have this all happen to me, or I did something and deserve this even if I can’t understand what. Friends give up easy if I turn them down on meeting up and natural stop bothering to ask. Deep down I know I need the time with ppl and distraction from the pain but feel broken and forgetting how to be social and comfortable at the same time. Do the opposite, don’t give up easy if they turn you… Read more »

tommy thai
Guest
tommy thai

read the essence of my comment above with a clear mind, no alcohol etc because i can see a clear conscience which is pure. Stop the worry since your friend with the repetitious condition can see negativity easily in worry. Positive people see worry as love. Negative people see worry as a stimuli to back to their past time. Check your image in the mirror first then go out there and save more lives. You already saved yours with the attempt. Save your friend by laughing at it all in a private setting. rest sleep h20 inside and out and… Read more »

Abicyclist
Guest
Abicyclist

Not sure it is this simple. I spent 13 years in a (what could have in retrospect been called “codependent”) relationship with someone I hoped would heal if I just gave them a safe nurturing space to do so. However she was never truly happy and in the end I had to accept that she might never be, and it was not mine to fix. With layers on layers of issues and diagnoses, childhood trauma being just one of them. Depression, hormonal imbalances, sleep disorder, anxiety, alcoholism… Unfortunately not mine to manage or fix. I’m better off being with someone… Read more »

form
Guest
form

She’s suffered under the demand to heal “on her own” all of this time. And where did it get her? More of the same isn’t going to work. And don’t worry about bailing. As you can see from this article and comments page, there are MANY people in the world who are stronger people than you are. Your discard is bound to meet at least one of them.

Abicyclist
Guest
Abicyclist

The ego thinks it controls more than it does. Letting go was part of the healing process. Respect for her path allowing it to diverge was part of the mutual growth that needed to occur. Connections can’t be unilaterally forced, no matter how “strong” one thinks one is. I’m okay with that

David Barnes
Guest
David Barnes

Sounds like AA. “We will love you until you can love yourself.”

Thomas Whalen
Guest
Thomas Whalen

-And its about one person talking – connecting – to another. Not judging. It’s about providing a family of people who have been there -done that. And providing a methodology – the 12 steps as a way of healing that ultimately results in making connections, healing relationships and being of service to others.

Andrew Brin
Guest
Andrew Brin

Johan Hari is a plagiarist and hack and a blogger. he is not a professional in the treatment, or recovery industry, and certainly not any kind of clinician.

http://www.theguardian.com/media/2012/jan/20/johann-hari-quits-the-independent

Taylor Y
Guest
Taylor Y

Who cares? So called professionals don’t have a clue as to what they are doing. I know this first hand. And….every single innovation or real change Has NOT begun through established paradigm “professionals” but with real humans and with intuition, insight, and compassion. I would recommend that people stay away from professionals, doctors, institutions and the so-called “recovery industry” as it is all Arrogance & Ignorance compounded by greed. IM not so humble opinion. Been there done that!! And as far as AA is concerned, most AA members do not know how to truly connect or they would not need… Read more »

Brooke Carroll
Guest
Brooke Carroll

im an addict and have spent years self discovering and growing. i will always be an addict but now i am happy and i live in peace with myself because i did exactly what this is describing, i connected, with others and with myself (which was the hardest). however it took so much longer than it should have only due to others being hesitant about connecting with me as i was still in their eyes an addict and not worthy of their time, acknowledgement, or association. . . for years i preached this concept and ppl dont listen……why…. because im… Read more »

Ram Samudrala
Guest

Ibogaine and some other psychedelics will help with certain kinds of addiction (one time use only). These entheogen restore connection to the universe around you. I do think there’s a causal connection (which needs to be verified properly with controlled studies) between trauma/loss/pain and addiction. Or it’s a really convenient excuse. 🙂

Leslie Landberg
Guest
Leslie Landberg

as in West Side Story: “I’m depraved on account of I’m deprived!”. It’s true and it’s not a cheap excuse, but it is only the beginning of being whole to recognize we are wounded.

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