THE OPPOSITE OF ADDICTION:
What is the opposite of addiction? If you posed this question to a random group of people, I would venture a guess that the vast majority would say that the opposite of addiction is sobriety. In other words, as long as you are abstaining from drug use, you are the opposite of addicted. I would argue that this stance is short-sighted and only partially true.
In addiction recovery, there is a common phenomenon referred to as “white knuckling.” “White knuckling” is when someone is not drinking or using their drug of choice by sheer willpower. They make a conscious decision to no longer drink or use drugs, which often leads to preventative measures like throwing out all the booze or drugs they have stashed around their home or deleting their drug dealer’s number from their phone. Although these are important behavioral strategies to employ in recovery, it is an incomplete take on recovery. As “white knuckling” suggests, the addict is clamping down, barely holding on to their own sobriety. To truly engage in the recovery process, the individual must delve deeper. They must examine underlying emotional components that lead them to use. One common driver of use across the board is loneliness.
So, let’s return to the question at hand, what is the opposite of addiction? Well, writer Johann Hari argues that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection. That’s not to say that sobriety is not important to recovery, it absolutely is. But importantly, so is connection.
In his TedTalk, Hari references a study conducted with lab rats that offers compelling evidence for this conclusion. In one trial, a researcher placed a single rat in a sterile cage with two bottles. One bottle had water in it, and the other had water infused with drugs. Unsurprisingly, the rat chose the bottle with the drugs and became addicted.
In a second trial, the researcher placed rats in a cage called “Rat Park.” This cage had both the water bottle and drug-infused bottle, as well as plenty of food, wheels for exercise, toys, and other rats to socialize and have sex with. This time, however, none of the rats chose the drug-infused bottle. None became addicted. Drawing on these results, the researchers concluded that positive social connection was the single most important predictor in whether someone will struggle with and recover from addiction.
Examining recovery programs, such as AA, NA, or CA twelve-step programs, it is no surprise that there is so much emphasis on group programming. Interpersonal connection is an essential human need, and these types of programs offer connection with other individuals in recovery. So, in your own recovery process, it is important to focus on sobriety, but also imperative that you focus on building a positive network of social support. How can we work to build our own version of “Rat Park?”
By Jonathan Fricke, MA