Unchecked addiction is predictable and scary

"As a result of scientific research, we know addiction is a disease that affects [both] the brain and behavior"


HARRISBURG, Pa., Sept. 2, 2015 — Everyone has an addiction nugget. What’s yours? More importantly, not only why do you have it, but what pulls your trigger to turn that addiction on?

It might not be what you first thought it was.

Society once believed addiction was strictly the result of a weak moral constitution. The propaganda for the past century regarding the battle to overcome drug addiction suggests something else. Since the 1930s, the National Institutes for Health has declared, As a result of scientific research, we know addiction is a disease that affects [both] the brain and behavior. We have identified many of the biological and environmental factors and are beginning to search for the genetic variations that contribute to the development and progression of the disease” (source: NIH).

But what if the NIH and other prestigious science annals, in this now over a century old drug war, has emphasized biological factors while ignoring environmental factors? Can someone suffering an addiction be triggered not exclusively by a chemical hook or a genetic propensity, but by another factor worth further research and insight?

In a January 2015 article,  Johann Hari,  author of Chasing the Scream, wrote about his own research on addiction and his experience living with, and loving, someone who is addicted. Says Hari, “We’ve much to change on the drug war[… ]. We will have to change ourselves.”

Hari cites an opinion-changing study by Vancouver psychology professor Bruce Alexander. In the 1980s TV spots from Partnership For A Drug-Free America, two rats were alone in their cages with two water bottles. The unlucky rat with the drug-laced water bottle grew addicted to the water, ignoring the drug-free water completely. The other rat was fine.

Alexander posited, and Hari argued effectively, it could be the “cage” and not the drug that contributes to addiction. In fact, when the addicted rat was introduced to a comfortable cage with other rats and recreation loved by rats, it chose the non-laced water over the drug-laced water.

Loneliness, it seems, is at least a factor in addiction. The article suggests the addicted-afflicted needs a solid, unconditionally loving and encouraging support network. However, the article extends the possibility that, even with a supportive web of friends and family, a person could still harbor loneliness. Everyone is busy with their lives: jobs, kids, bills, sick pets, aging parents, siblings, husbands or wives, health concerns. Someone with the most supportive structure could find himself pushed to the back burner, his friends and loved ones citing these legitimate concerns.

But, you have to wonder, as we are social creatures — and prone to loneliness while grappling with said vices — is he or she addicted because of that fear of loneliness? Or was the loneliness the trigger for the addiction to stave off that bigger, deeper “nugget” factor?

The kiwi video, demonstrating, and rightfully so, the emotional aspects of addiction, also folds in a wider realm that a mere five minutes can’t illustrate as brilliantly. As the darkness surrounds the little bird, leaving the glowing nugget still in its path, one wonders: Is that environment pressing the need to consume the nugget?

The kiwi’s evident loneliness, maybe its desperation for another living, breathing being to connect with, finds an inanimate object to replace that being, giving it a job it is not meant to do? Is it self-aware of these factors, knowing the darkness has it in its grip, and faced to choose to keep that nugget illuminating the darkness, trying to claw out why and how it got here .. . or take it and stay in the gloom permanently?

The drug war doesn’t want these questions asked. Those behind the scenes — government, cartels and their sub-sect gangs, weapons, prostitution, music reflecting this, the prison system complex and rehab centers – do not not want to find solutions, lest the money and power invested in them suddenly disappears. It is up to all of us to do what we can with every bit of our power to help those addicted “find a new cage.”

Addiction comes in many forms — shopping, sex, hoarding, over-working, over-exercising, whichever one’s nugget triggers happens to be — and it goes back, perhaps, to the human need to occasionally disconnect from technology and physically reach out to others. In that sense, when you help someone else’s cage become more environmentally sound, a little less lonely with a no-strings mindset, you just might find you’ve done the same with your own.

And have turned off your nugget’s glow in your own overwhelming darkness.

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