The landmark rat park study showed that being engaged in social environments made it less likely for rats to foster addictive behaviors. So could these results translate and be successful among humans?
“Human beings have a natural and innate need to bond,” Johann Hari says in his TED Talk on addiction, “and when we’re happy and healthy, we’ll bond and connect with each other, but if you can’t do that because you’re traumatized or isolated or beaten down by life, you will bond with something that will give you some sense of relief.” The opposite of addiction, Hari claims, isn’t sobriety, but connection.
While it’s important to treat Hari’s talk as mainly anecdotal, there has been research done, beyond rat park, that aligns with his ideas. An examination of therapeutic communities, a common treatment practice in Spain, showed that substance users who underwent treatment in one of these TCs decreased (or for 48% of them, completely eliminated) the presence of drugs in their lives. Additional reports of having improved personal lives and familial relations accompanied those findings.
Another study, published in the Medical Journal of Chile, found that social support can have an immensely positive impact on addicts maintaining a drug-free lifestyle — after six months out of treatment, 70% of participants in the study had remained drug free.
Hari’s talk concludes with what he wants to say to the addicts he knows: “I love you whether you’re using or you’re not. I love you, whatever state you’re in. If you need me, I’ll come and sit with you because I love you and I don’t want you to be alone or to feel alone.” Nothing but good will come from seeking out that bond and it will show people the importance of “loving an addict.”
Watch Hari’s TED talk on addiction in its entirety below.