The Addiction

Yuvraj Dhadwal

What causes addiction? We all know that drugs cause addiction, but I soon discovered that it may not be that simple . . .

What causes heroin addiction? (Heroin is a highly addictive analgesic drug derived from morphine, often used illicitly as a narcotic producing euphoria) Well, we all know the answer. Heroin causes heroin addiction. This is how it works: if you use heroin for 20 days, by the 21st day, your body would thirst for the drug insanely because there are chemical hooks in the drug. That's what addiction means, right? What if I told you that you were wrong? Almost everything we know about addiction is wrong. For example, if a man breaks his hip, he will be taken to the hospital where he will be given loads of diamorphine for weeks, or in even rare cases, months. Diamorphine is heroin. In fact it much stronger than any street heroin you can buy from a shady business owner because it is not contaminated by all the pollutants drug dealers dilute it with. There are millions of people being given delux heroin right now, so at least some of them should become heroin addicts, right? But this has been closely studied by many people; it does not happen. Your father did not become an addict because of his hip replacement. Why though?

Theories on Addiction
Our current theory of addiction comes in part from a couple of experiments, that were carried out in the early 20th century. Their experiment is simple: you take a rat and put it in a cage with two water bottles. One is just simple, plain water while the other one is water laced with cocaine or heroin. Almost every time you run the experiment the rat gets obsessed with the deadly water until it dies. Do you know why? Think about it, you are stuck in a cage with nothing to do but drink water or die. You would obviously do the only thing reasonable, which is to die. Sooner or later you are going to die, either of starvation or of heroin/cocaine. That was a major flaw in the experiment. Thankfully in the 1970s Bruce Alexander, a professor of psychology, noticed something odd, which is the fact that the rat is put in the cage all alone, like we hypothesised. So what he did was he built Rat Park which is basically heaven for rats, where they can have a lush cage with colored balls, tunnels to scamper down, plenty of friends to play with. Everything a rat in a town could want would be included, and they would have the drugged water and the normal water bottles. But here is what was fascinating, the rats in Rat Park almost never drank the drugged water, none of the rats drank in overdoses.

The Vietnam War
Did you know that about 20% of American Troops in Vietnam were using way too much heroin? People in America were really worried that their streets would be filled with thousands of freaks searching for heroin. Some people didn’t want the war to even end! Surprising right? The interesting thing though is that the soldiers brought a study home. Shockingly, they didn’t go to rehab; they didn’t even go into withdrawal! About 95% of the 20% just stopped when they got home. If you believe the old theory, this makes no sense, but if you follow Dr. Bruce Alexander’s theory, this makes total sense. Because if you are in a horrific jungle in a foreign country that you don’t want to be in. And you are forced to kill or be killed at any moment, doing heroin is a great way to spend your time. (Keep in mind they have no cellular service.) However, if you are back home with your nice friends and family, it’s the equivalent of being taken out of the first cage and being put into Rat Park.

It’s not the Chemicals it’s your Cage
We need to think about addiction differently. We humans are social creatures. We have the innate need to bond and connect. When we are happy and healthy, we will bond with the people around us, but when we can’t because we are traumatized, isolated, or beaten down by life, we will bond with things that give us some sense of relief. This can be anything from endlessly checking your smartphone, video games, reddit, gambling or cocaine. But we will bond with something because that is our human nature. The path out of unhealthy bonds is to form healthy bonds, to be connected with people you want to be present in your everyday life. Addiction is a symptom of disconnection.

The Opposite of Addiction is Connection
Since about the 1950s, the average number of close friends in America has been steadily declining, while the amount of floor space in the average American household has become larger. We’re choosing floor space over friends andstuff over connection.

The War on Drugs
The war on drugs has made everything worse. Instead of letting people heal and get their life together, we have cast them out of society. We have made it harder for them to find jobs and be financially stable. We take benefits away from them if we catch them with drugs. We throw them into prison which is literally a cage. We take people who are not well and make them feel worse and hate them for not recovering.

For too long, we have only talked about individual recovery from addiction, but we need to talk about social recovery, because we as a group have hit an invisible iceberg. We have to build a society more like Rat Park and a lot less like those lonely cages. We are going to have to stop acting like robots and more like humans, we need to rediscover ourselves.

The Opposite of Addiction is not Sobriety; the Opposite of Addiction is Connection.


1. “Addiction.” Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell, 29 Oct. 2015,

2. Hari, Johann. Chasing the Scream: the First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016.