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Maybe We've Been Thinking About Addiction All Wrong

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 2/11/2015 Amber Ferguson
DRUG ADDICTION © In a Nutshell – Kurzgesagt DRUG ADDICTION

The opposite of drug addiction is not sobriety, it’s connection, according to best-selling author Johann Hari.

The animated video above, adapted from Hari's Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, claims that the drug war has failed because it has focused on eliminating drugs and punishing users -- two tools that have proven woefully ineffective at stemming either supply or demand. Instead, Hari says, we can address the desire for drugs by understanding that our surroundings play a huge part in driving us to abuse mind-altering substances.

According to psychologist Bruce Alexander, changing a person's environment and social setting can dramatically affect his or her chance of addiction. In the late 1970s, he developed the “Rat Park” experiment, which debunked previous beliefs that certain drugs will make any user addicted. While previous experiments had shown rats that were given a choice between regular water and water laced with heroin would choose the latter -- and keep going back until they died -- Alexander's experiment showed that wasn't always the case.

Rats in Alexander's experiment were given food, play equipment, other rats to interact with and both regular and drug-laced water. The rats lived without becoming addicted to the drugs, and none of them overdosed.

Hari argues that these findings can be extended to humans. The best way to address addiction, he says, is not with jail time or isolating addicted people from others in society. Instead, we should give them support, a healthy environment to thrive in and activities that involve substantial social interaction -- all of which will help them on the road to recovery and eliminate the desire to return to dangerous drug use.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services reports that 44 people in the United States die from prescription opioid overdose each day. The number of heroin-related fatalities increased by 39 percent between 2012 and 2013, when 8,260 people died of an overdose.

Watch the video above.

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