Connection vs. Isolation
I’ve been fascinated by the idea that the opposite of addiction is connection since I first heard about it. It seems to be a transformative paradigm shift in terms of how we think about addiction and treatment. This piece by Robert Weiss details some of the research that went into formulating this conclusion.
Given the above, one wonders what is really going on with addiction. Obviously, there is more to the equation than just the dopamine pleasure response. Certainly, the experience of pleasure does play some role because it opens the doorway to addiction. But it is clear, since most people do not become addicts, that over time a person’s initial experience of pleasure is not what causes that individual to return to an addictive substance again and again, compulsively and to his or her detriment.
In an experiment, rats were given heroin and, in the absence of external stimulation and a community of other rats, became hopelessly addicted to it. In an environment with more to interact with and plenty of other rats, they ended up ignoring the heroin. The lesson transformed the thinking about addiction and helped to factor in community support as a factor in combating the problem.
Similar findings have been discovered in the area of mental health treatment in Finland.
In recent years, the Finnish model of care, known as ‘open dialogue’, has been seen as an alternative. Based on a network of family, friends and mental health practitioners, there are reports of significant long-term benefits, including fewer prescriptions, less time spent in hospital, and more people returning to education and work.
The more they are neglected, the more real-world connections show their necessity. The “loneliness epidemic” poses real and abiding risks for quality of life measures. U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy recognizes the fact that online connections don’t have the depth and protective effects that in-person connections do. “Cultivating a culture of connection,” is not easy, though, particularly with the forces of modernity, technology and individualism, pushing against it.
I can’t help but think about those that have put themselves in the right positions to nurture relationships, though, and have not seen success. This could be someone who has trouble with interpersonal relationships. It could be someone who felt excluded at a church, synagogue, mosque, temple or even at the local bowling league. I have heard so many stories from people that fit into these categories. I think we have a responsibility to ensure that those folks do not fall through the cracks. Particularly, as we see more and more data underscore the importance of social relationships and support systems, we need to keep a close eye out for those who may not be successfully finding opportunities to be nurtured in this way.