Johann Hari gave a TED Talk in London, England about drug addiction. After traveling over 30,000 miles to study addiction, he found that the way we understand and treat addiction is all wrong. Watch his TED Talk here and get a recap of his main points.

“Almost all the things we think about drug addiction is wrong… We’re going to have to change a lot more than our drug policies.” (1:47)

Professor Bruce Alexander noticed the idea of addiction comes from an experiment where you put the rat in an empty cage and give it two water bottles to choose from… one with pure water and one laced with heroin. Every rat in this empty cage chose the bottle with heroin, overdosed, and died. So Alexander built “Rat Park,” a cage with lots of room, food, tunnels and multiple rats so they can be social. He also put two water bottles in there and noticed that they preferred the pure water over the water laced with heroin. The subjects went from almost 100% overdose when there is nothing to do, to 0% overdose when they’re living happy and connected lives. (3:40)

Not just rats. The Vietnam War showed the same thing. 95% of the heroine users in Vietnam War just stopped when they got home and didn’t become junkies. (5:15-5:47)

“What if addiction is about an adaptation to your environment (cage). Maybe we shouldn’t even call it addiction, maybe we should call it bonding. Human beings have a natural and innate need to bond.” (5:51-6:40)

[cs_infobox column_size=”1/1″ cs_infobox_title=”How does this apply to prevention?” cs_infobox_bg_color=”#eded5e” cs_infobox_list_text_color=”#000000″][infobox_item cs_infobox_list_icon=”fa-users” icon=”Choose Icon” cs_infobox_list_color=”#ce7b00″] We don’t start using drugs and alcohol because we weren’t “educated” by a campaign, event or advertisement. We start because it’s the social thing to do and we’ll be accepted. If we have no option to connect with others in a safe and inclusive environment, we will not see a change in our substance-use culture. This is what drives the movement of Party.0! [/infobox_item] [/cs_infobox]

We punish, shame and give addicts criminal records. We put barriers in the way of them reconnecting. Portugal tried something different. They legalized all drugs and used all the tax-money to connect addicts back to their lives. They made sure that every addict in Portugal had something to get up for in the morning. They rediscovered their purpose, and made bonds and relationships with society. In just 15 years, results show that injection drug use is down 50% and drug abuse, addiction, HIV, and overdoses are all down as well. (7:45-10:24)

We need to start thinking about “social recovery” as well as individual recovery. (11:55-12:16)

Threatening to “cut off” an addict isn’t the right way to help them. (12:53-13:33)

The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s connection. (14:22)


What do you think about this? Is this right or wrong? How should we help people who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction?