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KVC Health Systems

Addiction: Everything You Think You Know About It Is Wrong

Substance abuse is one of the top reasons why many parents become involved in the child welfare system. Abusing drugs or alcohol can lead to an unsafe or unstable living environment for children. The problem’s prevalence begs two important questions: what is the cause of addiction and can addiction be overcome?

A new TED Talk from British journalist Johann Hari calls into question the widely-accepted view that addiction is a problem of chemical dependency. Looking at the latest addiction research and the troubling results of the decades-old War on Drugs, Hari suggest a new way forward on this important topic.

In addition to the popular TEDTalk (above) with over 1 million views worldwide, Hari’s perspective can be read in this Huffington Post article: “The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It’s Not What You Think.”

The conclusion Hari makes is that it’s not primarily a chemical hook which makes people addicted to drugs or even a moral failure, but rather their environment. Both animal experiments and human history have shown that those who are isolated in negative environments do become hooked on drugs, but those who are surrounded by people they love in a positive environment will shun the available drugs or even stop taking drugs to which they previously seemed addicted.

Interestingly, Hari’s findings overlap with the philosophies underlying KVC’s Safe & Connected approach to helping children and families. Safe & Connected is so named because the two core needs of any child or adult are to be safe and to be connected to others. Perhaps youth and adults who are addicted to drugs and alcohol are not hopelessly hooked on a chemical, but rather lack meaningful bonds to another human being or a positive environment? Since all humans are wired to bond or connect to others, Hari says we will bond to drugs — or a range of other non-chemical things: gambling, gaming, pornography, even smartphones — in the absence of meaningful human connections.

While Hari’s conclusion may be controversial to many since he advocates for the decriminalization of drugs, some of his positive recommendations are easy for all to agree with: people who are struggling with addiction including substance abuse will benefit from efforts to connect them with other people and with employment and social opportunities. Disconnection only exacerbates the problem.

Learn more about KVC’s Safe & Connected model.