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Addict (verb) — addict | ə-ˈdikt – to devote or surrender (oneself) to something habitually or obsessively.

Addict (noun) —  ad·dict | ˈa-(ˌ)dikt —  one who is addicted especially to a substance.

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We all know what causes drug addiction. Here’s how it works. A regular person uses cocaine for the first time. The initial times seem okay, but after a while, you build a tolerance towards it and you need more and more of it to achieve the same effects. Your body begins to crave the cocaine because there are chemical hooks in the drug. The only way to stop addiction is to slowly stop using the drug and lower your body’s craving for the drug little by little.

If you’ve ever been in some kind of life skills class or a class that educates you on drugs and how it affects your body, that’s likely what you’ve learned. However, that’s not always the case.

Addiction is not entirely caused by the chemicals lurking inside of the drugs, but by a disconnect from caring society and lack of love and comfort. We should not cast out the members suffering from addiction, but instead, treat them with care and nurse them back to health.

If you were to fall off your bike and break your hip,  you’re likely to get a great dose of diamorphine for weeks or even months. Diamorphine is a strong painkiller and is famous for its euphoric effects for people in great pain. Diamorphine is the medical name for heroin: the recreational drug that’s killed over 47,000 people in the US in 2014,  the drug that causes 8 lethal overdoses per day on average. In fact, diamorphine is a stronger drug than street heroin, which has been diluted with all sorts of things drug dealers put in it. In hospitals around you, there are extremely addictive drugs given to weak patients. According to what you know about addiction, at least some of the patients that are given diamorphine will become addicts. Nonetheless, after the injury has healed and the patient is released, they remain completely fine without the drug and return immediately to their regular lives without rehab or even withdrawal symptoms.

In the 20th century, a series of experiments were performed to study the effects of addiction. The experiments were simple: a rat was isolated in a cage with 2 water bottles — one with normal water and another laced with cocaine or heroin. Every time the experiments were run, the rats almost always went to the drugged water and came back for more and more until they killed themselves through overdose.

But during the 1970s, Professor Bruce Alexander noticed something odd — the rats kept going back to the drug water because they had nothing better to do other than to drink from the water bottles. To counter this problem, he altered the experiment — he built Rat Park.

After studying the genetics of the rats, Alexander learned that the ancestors of the so-called lab rats in nature are highly social, sexual, and industrious creatures. Rat Park was built to accommodate the needs of the animals. It had many tunnels to climb through, plenty of playmates, many balls to play with, and the rats could have plenty of sex whenever they’d like. The two types of water bottles still remained, one diluted with heroin and the other just plain tap water. However, in rat park, the rats hardly ever used the heroin water; none of them used the heroin water compulsively; none of them ever overdosed. This proves that addiction is indeed not caused by the chemical hooks, but the environment in which the beings subjected to the drugs are in.

Some of you might think that the animals subjected to this test are rats, and therefore they cannot accurately represent how humans would act if placed in similar conditions. Conveniently, there was a similar experiment performed on humans — the Vietnam War.

Out of the 2.7 million troops deployed to support South Vietnam in the Vietnam War, around 20% did Heroin as a recreational drug while on the battlefield. It made sense. Surrounded by an environment where it was “kill or be killed”, the soldiers needed something that made them feel better. The citizens of the United States back at home were extremely worried that by the time the war ended, there would be drug addicts all over the streets of the homeland. Despite all of the preconceptions, the troops that came back proved them wrong. 95% of all the heroin users during the war stopped after returning home to their families; hardly any troops suffered from withdrawal or had to go to rehabilitation. If you looked at this with the original knowledge on addiction, it would make no sense. The Vietnam War was the solid proof that the cause of addiction is not the chemicals, but the environment the addict is situated in.

What’s to blame for this disconnect between individuals is not just us, but our lifestyles too. Over the past decades, smartphones and technology have prevented much person-to-person interaction. We’d much rather text into a screen rather than meet up in person. The floor space in our houses has also grown almost three times the size from the 20th century to the 21st century, from 600 and 800 square feet in the early 1900s to 2200 or more square feet the 2000s. This has decreased the time we spend physically together drastically. As a species, we are choosing convenience over intimacy, space over fellowship. Emerging from among all of this is a growing disconnect between individuals among the society. 

But to further prove that addiction has a direct correlation with our bonds and connections with society, we need to take a look at the country of Switzerland. The war on drugs has been going on for about a century now, governments all over the world spend a ton of money trying to cut off supplies of drugs to addicts. The core strategy and motto for the war on drugs was: “No drugs, no problems.” Therefore, many countries have been focused on eliminating the supply of drugs and eradicating drug traffickers. In the United States and Great Britain, addicts are punished and shamed. They are thrown in jail and gain a criminal record, which means they’ll never be able to work in the economic society ever again. Approximately one trillion U.S. dollars has been put into the war on drugs since 1971. But despite the colossal amounts of effort and money put into combating drug abuse, the problem has just been getting worse. This is because the strategy ignores supply and demand. The government decreased the supply of the product without decreasing demand. Normally, if you decrease the supply of something, the price goes up, discouraging people to purchase it. However, drugs will be consumed no matter what due to addiction and the great demand. Lowering the demand will only cause producers to create more, increasing the availability.

During the 1980s, Switzerland experienced a heroin crisis. HIV rates sky-rocketed, and street crime became a huge problem. Instead of lowering the supply of the drug, they focused on lowering the demand side. Many heroin-maintenance centers were opened all over the country. They provided the addicts with clean needles, free heroin, injection rooms, and medical supervision. Social workers assisted the addicts in the centers to find jobs and housing. As a result, over 2/3 of the people in the centers obtained regular jobs because they could focus on getting on with their lives rather than financing their addiction. 70% of all heroin addicts received proper treatment and deaths from heroin abuse have dropped by 50% since the program started. It was not only Switzerland that showed the benefits of this. In 2001, the Portuguese government decriminalized all drugs and spend the money used previously on getting rid of drugs, to helping the addicts. The government paid the wages of addicts and helped them find work until they could get back on their feet again. During 1999, nearly 1% of the country’s population were drug addicts. But after this initiative, drug use dropped sharply, an astounding 50%. Both Switzerland and Portugal show us that instead of punishing and focusing on getting rid of the source of the problem, we should instead focus on how we can reduce the damage by guiding the society to create better bonds instead of bonds with drugs; it is also the best proof that addiction is best fought by connection, rather than of accusation and judgement.

The feeling that often comes to mind when we talk about junkies or addicts is disgust and anathema. You feel an urge to separate them from our community until they are sober again. This needs to change. As the Vietnam War and the studies of Professor Alexander have shown us, the solution to addiction is to embrace. We put addicts that are not well in a situation where they feel worse, we cast them out of society and label them with vulgar names, we spit on them with abomination when instead what we should be doing is helping them get their lives back together and making sure that they are not alone.

Humans are highly social and intelligent beings with a great need to connect. Without other beings to connect with, we bond with other things that provide us some sense of satisfaction whether it be drugs, your phone, pornography, gambling, or video games. This is no longer an individual issue for addicts, it’s an issue for humanity.

To eradicate the problem of addiction, we must rid ourselves of the negative bonds by creating with positive bonds. We should help the addicts by facilitating an environment where they feel safe and included, not by throwing them in prison where the bars are literally caged like the rats lived in.

We might never be able to stop individual cases of people using drugs for recreational purposes, but what we can do is promote a world where those people are accepted. One might never walk out of the shadows of drug abuse alone, but hand in hand, as an entire species, we are able. It is important to keep in mind that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. “The opposite of addiction is connection.”

Works Cited

“Addiction.” YouTube, uploaded by Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell, 9 Oct. 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ao8L-0nSYzg.

“Why The War on Drugs Is a Huge Failure.” Youtube, uploaded by Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell, 1 Mar. 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJUXLqNHCaI.

Johnson, Alan. “Drug overdose deaths pushed to another record high in Ohio.” The Columbus Dispatch, 25 Aug. 2016, http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2016/08/25/drug-overdose-deaths-pushed-to-another-record-high-in-ohio.html. Accessed 5 Dec. 2016.

American Society of Addiction Medicine. Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts and Figures. CWPA, NCTE, and NWP, 2016, http://www.asam.org/docs/default-source/advocacy/opioid-addiction-disease-facts-figures.pdf

“Rat Park.” Wikipedia, 6 Sept. 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rat_Park

Alexander, Bruce. “Addiction: The View from Rat Park.”The Globalization of Addiction , 2010, http://www.brucekalexander.com/articles-speeches/rat-park/148-addiction-the-view-from-rat-park. Accessed 5 Dec. 2016.

“Housing: Then, Now, and Future.” MKM Research, 5 Dec. 2016, http://www.moyak.com/papers/house-sizes.html.

Aleem, Zeeshan. mic.com, 11 Feb. 2015 “14 Years After Decriminalizing All Drugs, Here’s What Portugal Looks Like.” https://mic.com/articles/110344/14-years-after-portugal-decriminalized-all-drugs-here-s-what-s-happening#.X3AMaWpsz. Accessed 14 Dec. 2016.

 

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