Re-Defining Addiction: Is Everything We Know Wrong?
2 min

Re-Defining Addiction: Is Everything We Know Wrong?

2 min

It would seem addiction isn’t just to do with chemicals getting their hooks into us, as science now suggests there is a lot more going on.

When it comes to models of addiction and how it should be dealt with, the go-to response is retribution. From the overarching political policies of the War on Drugs, to the way we treat each other on a face to face level, addicts are treated with scorn - with the notion that such alienation will force them to change their ways, as well as act as an example to others not to make the same mistake. It is a stance that mainstream society has held for the last one-hundred years, but what if it is all wrong?

That is what Johann Hari, and other pioneers of the field, now want to address, challenging the way we view addiction as wrong.


Hari has spent a long time traveling the globe, meeting people from all walks of addiction. He has talked to addicts, dealers, policy makers, families of the afflicted, and to scientists trying to uncover how we can best deal with it. Through it all, he has found something – something he didn’t necessarily set out to find – that if anything, the current way we deal with addiction is making things worse.

To try and address this, Hari has brought his findings to London, where he has given an impassioned and informative TED talk – one that has earned him accolades and a standing ovation.

In the below video, Hari draws some very thought provoking points. For example, he talks about experiments with rats that show, when life is fulfilling, addiction doesn’t take hold. Conversely, when a rat is put in a cage with nothing but the drug, it becomes severely addicted, -to the point it dies. This has been replicated by observations from the Vietnam War. 20% of US soldiers were actively using heroin during their deployment, yet 95% came back clean and without addiction, without any treatment or therapy. Why? Because they had meaningful connections in their life that kept addiction at bay.

It challenges the notions that it is chemicals within substances that cause addiction, suggesting that it is, in fact, more to do with our frame of mind. It suggests that when we are alienated from society and the loved ones around us, we are that rat in a cage and become easily addicted to things in order to cope. Our minds and bodies seek solace elsewhere and become hooked. In a sense, Hari argues that when we lack the social bonds with fellow humans, we bond with substances. And how does society treat these addicts? It alienates them further, punishing them, cutting off bonds, and putting up barriers that make it hard for addicts to reintegrate.

All of these points and many more are fleshed out and explained in much greater detail by Hari in the below video. He also talks about the success of decriminalisation in Portugal, and how we need may need to change fundamentally as a society to accept the new and growing evidence that addiction is not what we think it is. We highly recommend watching it, as it will challenge and change the way you think about addiction.


Dr Gabor Mate is another pioneer of new addiction science, and explains how basically, addiction is simply a pain killer. It is a way to leave the pains of life, whether physical or emotional, behind. And addiction isn’t just about substance abuse, it can be anything, including technology, work addiction, shopping, and even porn. It is all a way for the mind to escape. You will find very few people with an addiction that are not distressed or traumatised in some way.

Once again, it all boils down to the connections around us, and the way we bond with those around us.

You can view a brief talk from Dr Mate, as well as see much more of his work, through the video below.

Luke Sumpter
Luke Sumpter
With a BSc (Hons) degree in Clinical Health Sciences and a passion for growing plants, Luke Sumpter has worked as a professional journalist and writer at the intersection of cannabis and science for the past 7 years.
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