Written by: Leah Roberts

What if..

Instead of shunning addicts, we created opportunities for them?
Instead of placing barriers, we connected with them?
Instead of threatening our bonds with them, we supported them?

What if we tried a different approach?

Here’s Something Interesting

It has been over 100 years since we banned drugs in the United States.

Over 100 years, since we decided to take addicts, punish them by law, and make them suffer, because we think that maybe it will hinder them. Give them some kind of incentive to stop what they are doing.

We’ve been doing this for 100 years, but our problem only seems to be getting worse. Why is that?
Let’s take a step back- to  a whole other country.

Portugal decriminalized drugs in 2001- from cannabis, to crack. Since that happened, there has been a massive decline in overdoses, HIV and AIDS, drug-related crime, incarceration rates, and just all around drug-use in general.

Why is that?

What We think we know:

Example by Johann Hari:

“Imagine all of you, for 20 days now, went off and used heroin three times a day. What would happen? We have a story that we’ve been told about for a century. We think, because there are chemical hooks in heroin, as you took it for awhile your body would become dependent on those hooks. You’d start to physically need them, and at the end of those twenty days, you’d all be heroin addicts. Right? Thats what i thought.”

Johann proceeds to tell a story to provide an example to the contrary.

“In the Vietnam war, 20 percent of all American troops were using loads of heroin. And if you look at the news reports from the time, they were really worried they were going to have hundreds of thousands of addicts in the United States when the war ends. Now those soldiers who were using loads of heroin were followed home and had a really detailed study on them and what happened to them. It turns out, they didn’t go to rehab, they didn’t go into withdrawal. 95 percent of them just stopped. Now if you believe the story about chemical hooks, that makes absolutely no sense. But what is addiction isn’t about chemical hooks? What if addiction is about your cage? What if addiction is an adaptation to your environment? Maybe we shouldn’t even call it addiction, maybe we should call it bonding.

“Human beings have a natural and innate need to bond. And when we’re happy and healthy, we are then bonding and connecting 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. Now, that might be gambling, it might be pornography, it might be cocaine, it might be cannabis. You will bond and connect with something because that is our nature. That is what we want as human beings.”

When we have bonds and connections we want to be present for, it is easier for us to want to exist in our lives. It provides us with incentive and motivation. These bonds could be anything from a job that we love, to the people that we love, or the responsibilities we need to be present for. But what happens when we don’t have those things? When it feels like we have nothing to be present for, or bond with?

Most of the time the addict will turn back to their substance of choice, right?

The core part of addiction is not being able to bare, being present in your life.

We punish addicts, we shame them, we give them criminal records. We place barriers between them, and society; between their opportunity of reconnecting with society.

Most of the time they turn back to their substance of choice, right?
But maybe they turn back because they are out of hope?

They can’t get a job now, they can’t get a house now. They can’t reconnect with society or build relationships now.
They are left without hope, because reconnection is now impossible.

Now lets get back to Portugal. When they decriminalized drugs in 2001, they instead took all the money they had once used on cutting addicts off and disconnecting them from society, and instead spent it on reconnecting them with society.

They created a massive program of job creation, and micro loans for addicts to start small businesses.

The goal was giving every addict in Portugal a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
This gave them a chance to rediscover purpose, rediscover bonds, and rediscover relationships in society.

It has been 17 years since this experiment began in Portugal.
Drug use is down in Portugal, according the British Journal of Criminology, by 50 percent now than in 2001.

addiction, family, recovery

The Opposite of Addiction is Connection

As a society, this evidence presents a huge opportunity for us; we now see the possibility of a different approach right?
We see this opportunity to further connect and bond with each other right?

Now don’t get this wrong- we are not saying we should decriminalize drugs. Simply put, we are asking for humans, to be human.

As a family member, what do we do after awhile of facing the addicts in our lives?
We get restless right? Sometimes hopeless, angry, upset?

We confront them in what they’re doing, and usually say, “If you don’t stop using, we’re going to cut you off.”
We are saying that if they don’t stop, we can’t be a part of their lives anymore right?

So we are taking the connection we have with our addict, and threatening it; using it as leverage. We are making it contingent upon their behavior.

Now it’s not easy, but what if we took a different approach instead?

What if instead, we say to the addict that we want to deepen the connection with them?

What if instead, we say “I love you, whether you are using or not, I love you no matter what state your in. And if you need me, I am here for you. I will come sit with you, because I love you, and I don’t want you to be alone.”

“For 100 years now, we’ve been singing war songs about addicts. But I think all along we should have been singing Love songs to them.”
-Johann Hari

What if all this time we could’ve been showing them support, creating connections with them, and not placing barriers between them and society?

What if…

Instead of shunning addicts in society, we created opportunities for them?
Instead of placing barriers, we connected with them?
Instead of threatening our bonds with them, we supported them?

The Opposite of Addiction is Connection
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