The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection with the world around you; connections that make life fulfilling enough that a person doesn’t want to hide through drugs or alcohol. Is this true? I don’t know, but it is the premise of a great Ted Talk by journalist Johann Hari that is worth watching.
He started thinking about addiction because it’s been 100 years since drugs were first banned in the US and Britain. It’s been a century since we made the decision to take addicts and punish them because we believed it would give them incentive to stop. Has it worked? Hari didn’t think so and it made him question, “What really causes addiction?” This question led to him traveling over 30,000 miles and talking to people from the transgender crack dealer in Brooklyn, to scientists, to politicians in Portugal.
What he found was that people don’t stop because someone is stopping them. They stop because they have connections that they want to be present for. They’ve got work they love, they’ve got people they love, they’ve got healthy relationships – and they want to be there to experience these things.
I think Hari’s ideas may be more relevant to our daily lives than we realize. I think this goes beyond folks with an addiction – I think I’d go back a step or two before addiction. Back to where whatever it is – alcohol, drugs, food, even smart phones and the internet– is being overused or abused.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Is it because life isn’t working quite the way we need it to? Perhaps the human connections we crave at a fundamental level aren’t quite there? Maybe we need a little more social and a little less social media… I don’t know the ‘right’ answer, but the next time you see someone doing something that doesn’t make sense when you look at it from the outside, take a minute to look at it from the connection perspective. What you learn just might surprise you.