The other day, I came across this fascinating article from Uplift. In it, the author provides research and data points that strongly suggest our greatest line of defense against addiction lies in cultivating connection with others. 

Case in point: Portugal has demonstrated a 50% drop in addiction thanks to programs that are specifically designed to re-create connection between the addict and their community. It works on the premise that isolation and lack of love and support are huge drivers of addiction. Therefore, introducing these individuals into a society that values them can work to rehabilitate them. And it does.

This then reminded me of a passage in my book that states we are the most obese, in debt, medicated, and addicted adults in human history. In other words, we are numbing out at historical highs whether that be in overeating, overspending, or over-medicating. We are addicted to substances, gambling, email, sex, social media, sugar, TV, work, and more, and we are running to these things due to lack of connection. And these addictions don’t necessarily end or begin based on our level of connection with other people but, rather, can occur when we lack meaningful connection with any major facet of life.

The importance of connection

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a small group of colleagues at Simon Fraser University, including Robert Coambs, Patricia Hadaway, Barry Beyerstein, and Bruce Alexander undertook an experiment that would challenge the latest findings on addiction. Previous to Alexander’s “Rat Park” study, researchers would place two water bottles in a rat’s cage: One containing water and another containing water laced with cocaine. These rats were in Skinner boxes that were stark, empty, and void of any “life”. Time and time again, the rats would prefer the laced water and would kill themselves regularly via overdose.

But when Alexander came along, he was troubled by the environment the rats were being kept in and decided to modify the experiment. He created what came to be known as Rat Park – a heavenly playground, if you will, for rats. There was plenty of food, toys, tunnels, burrowing material along with other rats. In his experiments, he consistently recorded the rats preferring the pure water over the laced water. In short, the rats didn’t want the drugs when their world was complete.

“The lack of connection is creating an epidemic of addiction”

The roots of healing

At its base, addiction is compulsive and chronic numbing. It is us running towards something else because we lack an essential need in a core facet of life. And this is exactly why I wrote my book and, in fact, gives me even more reason to believe, thanks to solid data, that cultivating connection in all facets of life can break cycles of addiction and abuse.

Alexander’s rats turned away from the drugs when they had all the components that made for a happy rat. And, just like them, we need more than four walls. We need connection to a rich environment, physical activity, healthy relationships, access to play, exploration, and all that allows us to fully express our individuality and purpose. When our lives are deficient in any single area, we turn to unhealthy avenues for a surrogate.

The best test I can think of for whether or not we are living wholeheartedly is the level of need we experience for the “laced bottle of water”. Do we reach for it daily? Does it creep up on us weekly? Or is it so constant that we have lost touch with what’s really here? We can’t even turn our backs from the water bottle to fully appreciate where our life is, most likely because we are scared of what we might find. That we may have a lot of work to do.

And yet, to do nothing is to become a slave to the addictions…. to the running. What if you stopped and dove into one area? Just focused there to create an area of ease and joy in your life? There is no more important step than to simply BEGIN. And if you do, I hope to be part of that journey.

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Halley Bock is the author and founder of Life, Incorporated.

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