New Ways of Thinking About Addiction

An image of a lighter, a needle, and a spoon in the foreground. The background is a blurred image of a man hudled up in the corner.

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Drug addiction is something that America, and the world at large, has been struggling with for a long time. Ever since the realization that certain drugs, like heroin, are dangerous, we’ve started a never-ending “War on Drugs.” Not only is this war impossible to win, but it costs millions of dollars and lives each day. But what if drugs weren’t the problem?

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 25% of all incarcerated people in America were arrested on a drug charge. But despite efforts to fight drug use, the usage rates remain the same.

In fact, the War on Drugs might actually be making things worse. It has certainly led to a massive increase in the amount of Americans in prison. But there’s a new way of looking at the problem. A recent book, Chasing the Scream: The First And Last Days of the War on Drugs, by Johann Hari, purports that the real key is not fighting the dealers and destroying the drugs, but trying to heal the users.

Based on evidence gathered from numerous studies and academic research, Hari argues that the cause of addiction isn’t the chemicals themselves; rather, the cause of addiction lies with the unmet emotional and psychological needs of the user. Addicts are unable to bond with other people, so they bond with a drug. The argument makes sense when gambling addition is considered, which has no chemical or physiological dependency.

It’s a very interesting idea, one that deserves consideration, but it isn’t exactly groundbreaking. Drug addiction specialists have known for quite a long time that it’s possible to be addicted to something without a chemical dependency. What they haven’t considered though, is how a cultural shift towards more isolated human activity has left many people feeling like they need to fill the void with a self-destructive fixation.

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