Over a century ago, drugs were banned for the first time. During this last century of the war on drugs, experts and politicians have told us a story about drug addiction. This story is so deeply rooted in our minds that we now take it for granted. It seems obvious, irrefutably true.
But the American Society of Chemistry broke into this scenario by turning the tables and stating that addiction to drugs, alcohol or any other destructive habit is not the result of any “personal defect”, but the natural consequence of brain chemistry. .
Several experiments have shown on several occasions that addiction is actually caused by the need for dopamine, the chemical agent responsible for a person’s levels of happiness (Newcombe, 2016).
Drugs are processed by an area of the brain called the ventral tegmental area, commonly known as the reward system. Right here the brain processes everything that makes us feel good. This is also where dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for the sensation of pleasure, is secreted, according to The Washington Post .
A cocaine addict, for example, starts consuming cocaine because he hasn’t developed a reward bond with anything else. Consequently, the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety, it’s human connection.
To combat drug addiction, we need to understand why we behave the way we do
Narcotic substances do not make us feel good by their very nature, but thanks to the signals our brain and the rest of the body receive about the need to pay attention to the action we are taking (taking drugs or hugging a family member) and to associate it with the positive feelings that come with it. Some drugs can raise dopamine levels up to ten times normal levels.
In this way, the brain adjusts to dopamine overload by reducing the number of dopamine receptors; which means that those who are addicted may come to need an increasing number of stimuli to maintain the same levels as the first time they took the substance.
British writer Johann Hari has collected a number of evidence that people who live in a happy environment, meaning that it allows the brain to release sufficient dopamine levels, are not so likely to develop addiction to drugs (Swanson, 2015).
The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but human contact
Hari quotes Bruce Alexander, professor of psychology at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, who argues that “addiction is a form of adaptation to the surrounding environment and can be compared to a cage” (Alexander, 2010).
In one of his experiments he discovered a rather curious fact: laboratory guinea pigs who lived in isolation and who had water and a mix of water and morphine available more often opted for the second drink, sometimes to the point of death. He wondered, then, what would happen if we tried to do differently?
It was then that he started building a Rat Park. It was an amusement park where the mice had colored balls, great food, wheels to run and lots of friends. Everything a mouse could want.
In the park, all the mice tried to drink from both dispensers, unaware of what they contained. The mice that led a satisfying lifestyle, however, did not appreciate the water with the drug. In general, they avoided drinking it and consumed less than a quarter of the drugs taken by the isolated mice. None of them died. As a result, while lonely, unhappy mice developed addictions, the same cannot be said for those who lived in a happy environment.
Addiction in war: experiment on man
At first it was thought that this was only a peculiarity of mice, until it became known of a similar experiment, but applied to humans. We refer to the Vietnam War.
Time magazine reported that heroin use among US soldiers was “as popular as chewing gum”, and that there were clear signs of this: About 20% of US soldiers had developed in that context. a heroin addiction , according to a study published by the General Archives of Psychiatry.
According to the same study, 95% of addicted soldiers have given up drugs. Very few underwent rehabilitation. They had gone from a terrifying cage to a pleasant place, so they no longer wanted to take drugs.
Professor Alexander argues that this finding is difficult to accept both from a classic approach, according to which addiction is a moral failure due to hedonistic excesses, and from a liberal approach, according to which disease develops in a chemically inhibited brain. He argues, in fact, that addiction is a form of adaptation: it is not us, it is our cage.