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What Causes Heroin Addiction?  

It’s obvious right? It must be heroin!  Our entire narrative for heroin addiction is based on the fact that it is addictive. What does that mean?  

Let’s break it down at its most basic level.  There are chemicals in heroin that hook to your brain. So over time with consistent use, your brain and body will begin to crave those same chemicals.  It’s Addiction 101. But what if there was more to it? What if we are missing something? What if it has nothing to do with the chemicals?

Let’s say your grandmother breaks her hip.  She is rushed to the hospital and has a hip replacement surgery. While recovering in the hospital, her doctor prescribes her with daily doses of diamporhine, an incredibly strong pain medication.  In fact, diamorphine, when broken down into its chemical basics, is actually more potent than heroin. When she is discharged from the hospital, she is released to her loving family and friends her support her recovery. With the euphoric and pain-subsiding side effects of the drug, why doesn’t Grandma get hooked on heroin when released from the hospital?  Shouldn’t she be addicted to something that, in reality, is stronger than heroin?

In the 1970s, scientists conducted a series of experiments with rats and the addictive properties of heroin.  A single rat would be placed in a cage with two water bottles, one laced with heroin and one that is not. Almost exclusively, the single rat would return to the heroin-laced water until it eventually overdosed and died.

However, when the researchers placed many rats in the same cage with the same two water bottles, the results were immensely different.  As rats were able to interact with each other, they primarily drank from the bottle that was only water.  The heroin-laced water bottle was barely touched. None of the rats were suffering from heroin addiction. 

Don’t buy the rat routine? Let’s look at humans for an example.

In the Vietnam War, it was estimated that 25% of soldiers were using heroin while in Vietnam.  Unfortunately, while creeping around a jungle and waiting to kill or be killed, escaping reality did not sound half bad.  You would assume, with that high of heroin use, all of those soldiers would continue using when they returned home, right?  Wrong.  95% of those using heroin while in Vietnam did not return to the drug as they came home to their loved ones.  How could this be?

Our attention to addiction has focused exclusively on the addictive chemicals found in drugs, such as heroin.  However, as we consider the previous examples of grandmothers, rats, and veterans, perhaps it is time to shift our perspective completely.  First, what did grandma, the rats, and the veterans- who did not stay addicted to the drug- all have in common? They had legitimate connections with others.  Grandma had her loving family.  The rats had each other. And the veterans had their families.

Human beings require connection with others.  When we are content with our lives, we will happily bond with those around us and stay connected to the world.  However, when we have experienced trauma or are depressed, we cannot healthily bond with others, so we will need to bond with something else, such as technology, gambling, or drugs.  In the end, we will bond with something because that is our human nature.

Over the last few decades, addiction has become a symptom of overall disconnect amongst human beings.   We are becoming less concerned with forming bonds with others and more concerned with acquiring material property for ourselves to fill some sort of void.  As addiction dominates one’s life, they will continue to withdraw from the world around them. In turn, addiction awareness has continued to isolate addicts and alcoholics as we cast them off as different from the rest of us.  We place addicts in institutions and prisons, separating them from the real world, but protest that they can never recover.  How could they?

Let’s sum this up in one simple phrase.  The opposite of addiction is not sobriety.  The opposite of addiction is connection.

As we continue to fight the addiction epidemic sweeping the US, our focus should not be on alienating addicts and alcoholics from the rest of the world, but teaching them how to live amongst their fellow man.  For people to recover from heroin addiction and other substance abuse disorders, it is important to find help that utilizes the 8 Dimensions of Wellness and other proactive recovery programs.  

For more information, please reach out for help by email or give us a call at 609-709-4205.

Inforomation on the author of the video, Johann Hari