Is the Opposite of Addiction Connection? Exploring the Root Causes of Addictions

Is the Opposite of Addiction Connection?  Exploring the Root Causes of Addictions

The author of Chasing the Scream, Johann Hari states: “The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety – it’s connection”.

But can the causes of addictions be reduced down to just one simple reason?

In his TED talk, titled “Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong”, Hari argues that there is an underlying cause to addiction that isn’t being sufficiently addressed with addicts. He states that the current war on drugs does little to address what he says is the key underlying cause of addiction in the first place:   The lack of connection and profound loneliness that perpetuates their behavior.

What is the evidence he uses to support this argument?

Rat experiments – from Alone to a Rat Park

In the late-1970s and early-1980, scientists wanted to know what causes an individual to return to an addictive substance over and over again.

They placed rats in cages with two bottles to choose from – one with pure water, and another with heroin-infused water. By the end of the experiment, the rats would inevitably get addicted and die from a heroin overdose.  Thus the researchers concluded that the substance itself was inherently addictive.

But Professor emeritus Bruce Alexander from Simon Fraser University noticed that some people did not get addicted to heroin, and others could take it and were actually able to quit on their own accord. He noticed that the early experiments had the rats in cages alone and without any stimulation.  He began to wonder, if they had better lives, would they still get addicted.

Rat parkThus created what is now known as “the rat park”. The cage was 200 times larger, with an abundance of stimulation, from plenty of tasty food, to toys and spaces for mating.

He put 20 rats together, allowing for plenty of social stimulation. He then give them a choice of bottles of pure vs. heroin water.

This time, the rats ignored the heroin-laced water.

Why? Was it the healthy options for engagement with the environment and other rats? Would this effect be seen in humans?

Luckily there was a natural experiment that happened in Portugal.

Portugal’s New Approach to Addiction

Two decades ago, Portugal and the United States both had serious drug problems.  The 2 countries responded to their crisis in opposite directions. The U.S. initiated it’s War on Drugs, by arresting drug users with harsh long sentences, and spending billions of dollars to house the growing prison population.

Portugal, on the other hand, decriminalized the use of all drugs, including cocaine and heroin, and started a major public health campaign to tackle addiction. In contrast to the US, they treated addiction as a medical condition, not a crime.

Portugal didn’t completely change its laws on drug trafficking.   Dealers still go to jail. But those caught with small quantities (up to a 10-day supply) receive an administrative offense, equivalent to getting a traffic ticket.  Offenders are then sent for counseling sessions with social workers to address the addiction.

Johann Hari says the underlying causes of addition are a lack of connectionPortugal has social workers that go places where the addicts live to educate them about avenues for recovery.   They are given fresh needles and provide methadone to those that want to quit.   Plus they had a job recovery program that gave grants to businesses willing to hire former addicts.

While Portugul was initially scolded around the world for its leniency with addicts, Portugal’s approach is hailed as a role model today.


After almost 20 years, it is obvious which approach worked better.    The number of Portuguese dying from overdose has decreased by more than an astonishing 85 percent.   Currently, while the US has 312 per million deaths due to overdose, Portugal has 6 per million, the lowest rate in Europe.

Celebrating Portugal's achievementsNow the Portuguese Health Ministry estimates that only 25,000 country’s residents use heroin, down from 100,000 when the policy launched. In contrast, in the US heroin use has doubled.

Portugal also had a 90 percent drop in drug related AIDS cases. They went from having the highest rates to the lowest in Europe!

So Hari argues that the compassionate approach, where people are not isolated and put in jails, but are integrated back into society is crucial for recovery. While I don’t disagree that this is imperative for most, or perhaps all addicts on the street, I’m not sure that connection is the missing piece for everyone.

I have clients who are married, middle class or better with steady jobs, stable relationships, leading purpose-driven lives. They would not call themselves lonely, but nevertheless had additions.

The Culture of Suppressing Emotions

Gabor Maté says that addiction is way to escape from pain.  We live in a culture that teaches people to run from their emotions, but doesn’t teach them how to deal with their pain. Thus without good resources or guidance, they choose addictions as a way to self medicate.

Gabor Mate says the underlying causes of addition are the escaping from painSometimes I find that my clients are abusing themselves because of self-hatred or self-loathing. There is a noticeable lack of self-compassion. When they can’t stand themselves, they take it out on their bodies. When I release their self-loathing, their have a greater desire to treat their bodies well.

So I definitely find that addictions are a means to escaping a pain.  But there must be other reasons.

What about my addicted clients who enjoy their lives and don’t have a strong need to run from pain?

Clients with sex or sugar addictions said their brain just couldn’t turn it off. It was a constant obsession and craving if they tried to stop. It almost felt like a pull so strong that one’s survival was at stake. A primal need. It is why poor heroine or crack addicts will do whatever it takes to get that drug, even if it means alienating their loved ones, entering the dark underground and drug rings to sell to others, subjecting themselves to violence and a life of crime. Addictions are like an evil monster has taken over.

Paired Associations and the Pavlov Effect

Researchers can train rats to get addicted to sugar water by pairing a specific sound with a reward, much like the lure of an ice-cream truck.

Those paired associations strengthen the connections between a previously unrelated experience (a.k.a a trigger) and a reward. For example, if you started going to bars with friends and had a great experience, you are more prone to going to bars again with friends. Even if your friends leave, because you’ve had those previously positive experiences, you are more likely to go on your own.

paired associations cause additionsI’ve noticed that triggers can be external cues, specific moods, or even time of day. Triggers can even be inherited through epigenetic experiences. I had a client whose father dreaded work in the morning. She personally didn’t have a conscious reason to dread mornings, but her father’s experience of mornings made her need to find a way to relax with a cigar.

These paired associations get so strong that the substance becomes the reward itself. The longing and the desire become too strong and take over until you can no longer control your actions. It is akin to having an amygdala hijack where the emotional part of your brain takes over your ability to act on your own best behalf.

For each person, the major triggers are based on their personal history.

For example, if you grew up in a place where drugs and alcohol were the norm and socially acceptable, you will be at a higher risk of addiction, than someone who grew up in a culture that didn’t use or encourage them.

night cap for dogIf you were neglected and your emotional needs were not met as a child, you might be at higher risk if drug or alcohol that was the only way you knew how to soothe your trigger of pain. On the other hand, maybe alcohol was just a way you

decided to wind down at the end of the day, and the paired association of night time and alcohol made it hard to quit.

There are likely other conscious and subconscious triggers that make it hard to stop. The causes of addictions are many and depend on the person’s history, inherited history, their methods for coping with pain, and their present-day circumstances.

So when I work with clients to release addictions we have to address the allure of the substance itself. And then we address the triggers. And if they are using it as a way to self-medicate, we need to determine what they running from.   But there could be other causes of addictions as well.

Other causes of addictions

addiction monitorIn working with clients, and tapping into their all-knowing subconscious, I’ve found that the reasons for additions vary between clients.   The reasons could be wanting to fit in, or do what is socially acceptable with the family or peer group.   Or a fear of change and starting a new existence and living consciously could be scary. The residual benefits of staying addicted could be more alluring than letting go of the habit. Maybe there is a rebellious streak or an entitlement to behave in the ways one wants to. Maybe there are nutritional deficiencies or problems with blood sugar that contribute to cravings.

I often find a big discrepancy between the alignment of the conscious intentions to quit and the subconscious intentions.   For those that haven’t been able to quit via other methods, the lack of being in complete alignment with recovery is usually more due to inherited associations that can’t be reached unless working with the subconscious.

We can help with addictionsSo what is causing your addiction? For you individually, I don’t know. But your subconscious does. Identifying the underlying causes of addiction and releasing them is a powerful and fast way to stop the addiction in its tracks.

If you’d like to get a better sense of what is possible, read Releasing Addictions with the Body Code, learn more about the Body Code, and contact me for a complimentary consultation.



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