04 January, 2016

Human Connection

I would ask my readers, if they can spare the time, to go here and read this. Please. You may find it illuminating.

Addiction, this article asserts, is not caused by "addictive substances"--at least not by those substances alone.

This runs so counter to the established mode of thinking that it sounds ridiculous. Of course heroin is addictive, and therefore using heroin will made you addicted to heroin.

Except in hospitals. Take diamorphine in a hospital for pain relief, over weeks and months...get discharged, and odds are next to nil you will turn to the streets to support your "habit". Even more telling, the stuff you get in the hospital is a hell of a lot more pure than anything you can score on the street. If the 'addictive substance' model of addiction had any validity, you'd have junkies streaming out of every hospital in the country. You don't.

Further examples are cited in the article: it makes a persuasive case that the 'addictive-ness' of a substance has surprisingly little to do with how people get addicted to it.

So what does? Isolation. Loneliness. Lack of human connection. Note the findings when Portugal decriminalized all drugs: addiction to injectable substances dropped fifty percent. But it wasn't because the drugs were suddenly quasi-legal: it was because Portugal took a caring, nurturing attitude towards its addicts, who were virtually all broken human beings beforehand. They gave them subsidized housing. They found them jobs. They made them responsible for each other.



This dovetails rather well with the justice policies of another European nation: Norway. In Norway, the prison system would positively enrage a right-winger. The prisons look like spa retreats...so cushy you might be tempted to commit a crime so as to be sent to one. The recidivism rate? Sixteen percent. By contrast, Canada's is 28% and it's ALMOST 68% in the United States. It's pretty clear that if the object is to reduce crime,  giving people every reason in the world to "act out" is not an optimal strategy.

It turns out, in case after case on topic after topic, that human connection is absolutely vital to our mental health, both as individuals and as a society. This used to be implicitly understood, as recently as the 1950s, when most people knew their neighbours and those who kept themselves secluded in their own homes were looked at askance. Now, precisely the opposite often obtains: you're considered mildly crazy if you talk to strangers.

Your friends and loved ones were once strangers, you know.

Now, I'm not certain this tells the whole story: There is an undeniable genetic component to addiction. But even that link posits the percentages at 50-60% genetics and the remainder "poor coping skills".

How do you develop good coping skills? Three guesses and the first two don't count.


I really have to be careful here, because I find myself solving every social ill under the sun with the words "empathy" and "connection". But you know...even if that's the wrong or incomplete answer to some of these things, it would still make the world a better place.


karen said...

Oh ho! Here is a subject dear to my heart! I read that article when it first came out last year. It mentions Rat Park,which I learned about in a psychology course and then read a lot more about. The findings in the rat park study just seem self evident to me. It also mentions Gabor Mate, whose work I love! Mate is a great believer in the power of love. My first husband had a brain tumor and I found Mate's book, Scattered Minds, when I was trying to figure out how we should deal with his recovery. It was invaluable and I have recommended it to friends who have children with attention "difficulties" and who are on the autism spectrum.

I recently read something about how we have been industrializing and moving into massive population groups faster than our psychological evolution can actually deal with, which supports my personal hypothesis that "civilization" is actually unhealthy for us. I am convinced that depression and other mental health issues are the result of a world we are not emotionally or psychologically equipped to deal with. And I think loneliness and isolation are deadly to human beings.

Ken Breadner said...

What I find sad is that we ate getting less isolated and less connected as time goes on, touting all the while how connected and integrated we are.
I've always thought of myself as an introvert, and struggled to square that with a craving for connection. It wasn't until I ran into one of those silly Facebook posters that the light bulb went off: extro/introversion is only a function of how you recharge your social batteries. It has nothing to do with your desire for social contact...
I believe that you're right about civilization. It's still a relatively new thing in human experience, and we are riding a wave of anomaly fuelled by access to cheap energy that has greatly accelerated all its effects. When that energy begins to wane, we'll be in for a "reconnect disconnect"that will take generations to work its way out.