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  • What causes, say, heroin addiction? This is a really stupid question, right?

  • It’s obvious. We all know it: Heroin causes heroin addiction.

  • Here’s how it works: If you use heroin for 20 days, by day 21, your body would physically crave the drug ferociously because there are chemical hooks in the drug.

  • That's what addiction means. But there's a catch. Almost everything we think we know about addiction is wrong.

  • If you, for example, break your hip, you'll be taken to a hospital, and you'll be given loads of diamorphine for weeks or even months.

  • Diamorphine is heroin. It's, in fact, much stronger heroin than any addict can get on the street, because it's not contaminated by all the stuff drug dealers dilute it with.

  • There are people near you being given loads of deluxe heroin in hospitals right now.

  • So, at least some of them should become addicts. But this has been closely studied. It doesn't happen.

  • Your grandmother wasn't turned into a junkie by her hip replacement. Why is that?

  • Our current theory of addiction comes in part from a series of experiments that were carried out earlier in the 20th century.

  • The experiment is simple: You take a rat and put it in a cage with two water bottles. One is just water, the other is water laced with heroin or cocaine.

  • Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water and keep coming back for more and more until it kills itself.

  • But in the 1970s, Bruce Alexander, a professor of psychology, noticed something odd about this experiment.

  • The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs.

  • What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently?

  • So he built Rat Park, which is basically heaven for rats.

  • It's a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls, tunnels to scamper down, plenty of friends to play with; everything a rat about town could want.

  • And they would have the drugged water and the normal water bottles.

  • But here's the fascinating thing: In Rat Park, rats hardly ever use the drugged water. None of them ever use it compulsively ; none of them ever overdose.

  • But maybe this is a quirk of rats, right?

  • Well, helpfully, there was a human experiment along the same lines: the Vietnam War.

  • 20% of American troops in Vietnam were using a lot of heroin.

  • People back home were really panicked because they thought there would be hundreds of thousands of junkies on the streets of the United States when the war was over.

  • But a study followed the soldiers home and found something striking : They didn't go to rehab; they didn't even go into withdrawal; 95% of them just stopped after they got home.

  • If you believe the old theory of addiction, that makes no sense. But if you believe Professor Alexander's theory, it makes perfect sense.

  • Because if you're put into a horrific jungle in a foreign country where you don't want to be, and you could be forced to kill or die at any moment, doing heroin is a great way to spend your time.

  • But if you go back to your nice home with your friends and your family, it's the equivalent of being taken out of that first cage and put into a human Rat Park.

  • It's not the chemicals; it's your cage.

  • We need to think about addiction differently.

  • Human beings have an innate need to bond and connect. When we are happy and healthy, we will bond with the people around us.

  • But when we can't because we're traumatized, isolated, or beaten down by life, we will bond with something that gives us some sense of relief.

  • It might be endlessly checking a smartphone; it might be pornography, video games, reddit, gambling, or it might be cocaine.

  • But we will bond with something because that is our human nature.

  • The path out of unhealthy bonds is to form healthy bonds, to be connected to people you want to be present with.

  • Addiction is just one symptom of the crisis of disconnection that's happening all around us. We all feel it.

  • Since the 1950s, the average number of close friends an American has has been steadily declining.

  • At the same time, the amount of floor space in their homes has been steadily increasing.

  • To choose floor space over friends, to choose stuff over connection.

  • We are going to have to change the unnatural way we live and rediscover each other.

  • The opposite of addiction is not sobriety ; the opposite of addiction is connection.

What causes, say, heroin addiction? This is a really stupid question, right?

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