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Is Connection the Opposite of Addiction?

In a widely viewed 2015 TED talk, Johann Hari publicized research by Bruce Alexander showing that the chemical dependence model is not adequate to explain addiction. In his research, Alexander showed that rats became addicted not because of the substance itself but because they were miserable. He found that rats put in a stimulating environment with other rats did not become addicted. The talk concludes with the assertion that “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety; the opposite of addiction is connection.”

In the years since its delivery, Hari’s talk has remained popular online, especially in those regions of the internet concerned about addiction and the war on drugs. It has been summarized by bloggers, turned into a comic strip, and several of those videos in which people do little drawings to illustrate the narration. “The opposite of addiction is connection” has become a meme in the original sense of the word.

Broadly speaking, this is a good thing. It raises awareness of an aspect of addiction that few non-addicts are aware of–the problem of isolation. We tend to believe we live in a hyperconnected society where isolation is hardly even possible. What we actually have, though, is not connection, but information and, more often, misinformation. This masks the gradual deterioration of real communities and social support. In this respect, increasing rates of addiction are something of a canary in the coal mine.

More immediately, Hari’s talk underscores the fact that addiction is not a problem that can be solved with harsher criminal penalties. In fact, the opposite is true. Criminalization only widens the rift between addicts and the rest of society. Healing addiction requires support and connection, not punishment.

The problem with the idea is the same as every other idea that manages to stay afloat in the media deluge–it’s too simple. Or rather, it sounds simple. It gives the impression we have it all figured out, if people would only listen. In reality, some substances are extremely addictive. Opioids create intense euphoria and have brutal withdrawal symptoms. Of course people are addicted to them. Hari attempts to answer the question, “why doesn’t everyone get addicted?”

It’s also not so clear what it means–in reality–to support an addict and preserve that connection. Addiction itself erodes connection, and sometimes the possibility of connection. Sometimes people find connection through drugs and alcohol and having found that social support makes it harder to quit.  

Hari, himself, acknowledges there is much the talk doesn’t address, and he has since written a book on the subject that goes into greater detail. The central message of the talk, though, is worth spreading. Finding connection in recovery is crucial. Many people in recovery find connection in 12 Step meetings, among people who have been through the same things.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help you detox safely and decide on a treatment strategy. Call us today at 844-828-1050 or email us at to learn more.