Addiction is an Adaptation, not a Disease

in psychology •  2 years ago

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Art by SebMaestro

"I see harm reduction as a way of engaging people as part of that path to recovery."

~Paul R. Ehrlich

Addiction is not a disease.

It is not a moral failing either.

Addiction is an adaptation.

People fall into addictive patterns of behavior because they want to escape from terrible environments, from emotional injuries, and from the ravages of abusive relationships.

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Experimental Studies on Addiction: Rats and Drugs


There are studies with rats that demonstrate how this works on a basic level.

Most people are only familiar with the study that showed the singly caged rat (inside a "Skinner Box") who constantly chose cocaine over water until it died. However, when rats live with their family in a safe and playful environment, they will almost never choose heroin over their family.

There was an experimental study called "Rat Park" that demonstrated this. The rats within rat park played often and mingled with other rats. When opioids were introduced, the rats almost never touched the substance, much less became "addicted" to it. They preferred to play instead of take dope.

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Human Comparison to "Rat Park"; Environment Contributes to Addiction


Compare this to humans. Whenever we suffer various forms of abuse and live in difficult environments—whenever we feel alone—this is when we turn to drugs, booze, and other "addictive" habits. In this sense, addiction is only a choice made for the purposes of survival and psychological equilibrium.

However, we have been duped into believing that the drugs themselves cause addiction. This is one of the biggest lies ever peddled, and it is used to prop up the drug war and condemn drug users as worthless junkies.

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The Root Cause of Addiction is Safety


But armed with new knowledge and understanding, we see that the root cause of addiction is safety. People want to feel safe. And that is why they escape into drug abuse. That is why they choose these chemicals over anything else.

Therefore, next time you see a relative doing hard drugs, instead of judging them, perhaps try to empathize with their plight and understand what traumas and abuses may have led to their need to rescue themselves with drugs.


My name is Sterlin. Follow me @sterlinluxan, Psychologic-Anarchist. I also run the Psychologic-Anarchist Facebook page and produce many YouTube videos. My interests lie in the intersection of counseling psychology and anarchism. I write about the depredations of psychiatry, and also the new philosophy of compassionate anarchism. We have a large community devoted to discussing psychology and relational voluntaryism.

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Good, and valid, point.

I was addicted to a lot of things, but only because I trained myself to be.

Thanks for this post, I'd heard of you before, but never followed you until now.

Keep it up!

Thanks for posting. I'm a year and a half clean from heroin addiction. These people need help not judgment.

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Absolutely. Not a problem. Glad you could get clean and survive. That is truly amazing. Thank you for sharing.

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Congrats on staying clean man!

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Thanks brother! I'm loving your posts! Your one of my favorite steemians.

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Wow, that means a lot to me.

Thank you.

Great post. As an addict, it sure gets old constantly getting told I have a disease.

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some harm reduction methods are the same as treating a terminal illness. addicts dont like to hear many things

'Adaptation' is not the best term for it. Self-medication, coping mechanism yes. It's a maladaptive pattern which some of us are predispositioned to. Addiction derails peoples lives to the point that they adapt to it, just as their body adapts to develop the addiction; everything in their lives revolves around it.

Seeking safety I don't think is the main root cause. many drug-takers are at heart adrenaline junkies, risk-taker. There's a tendency toward self-destruction I think every person has in some degree. Can't necessarily romanticize addicts as lost-souls in need of healing. I have known many addicts, all types of substances, all types of people, so this is from experience.

There are definitely circumstances around certain drugs which make the addiction much worse (aspects of it's culture, procuration, etc) One thing that helps is fighting the stigma,like what you do here. Criminalizing addicts, or even drugs, makes the issue worse personally and socially.

Gary Craig, who developed the Emotional Freedom Technique, used to say that any form of addiction (whether to sugar, heroin or computer games) is an attempt to manage anxiety of some kind. So EFT aims to neutralise the anxiety, so the addiction is no longer needed.

An interesting take from the flip-side of the coin! Enjoyed!!

Addiction is a substitute for the "real thing" - connection. Whether we call it love, community or faith, it's just being connected to something beyond ourselves. http://wakeup-world.com/2015/05/26/the-likely-cause-of-addiction-has-been-discovered-its-not-what-you-think/

As @radioactivities said, stigmatizing addiction doesn't serve anyone - it only worsens the problem.

However, we have been duped into believing that the drugs themselves cause addiction. This is one of the biggest lies ever peddled, and it is used to prop up the drug war and condemn drug users as worthless junkies.

Wait a second....are you saying that a person who feels safe and happy could take heroin, and they would NOT get addicted? Or are you simply saying a person who feels safe and happy would not likely be TEMPTED to take heroin because he would have no need to escape or feel that "connected" feeling?

We're talking about a huge difference in semantics here. Clarification would be great. Because what you are indirectly implying is that if a "safe" and "happy" person were to consume opiates, it would not have any affect on them, or if it did, it would not have an addictive affect on them.

Is this what you believe? I am fully willing to consider (and already believe) that addiction stems from a place of feeling unsafe and wanting to escape ravages of abuse or trauma or the aftermaths thereof. But tell that to a newborn who is addicted to heroin and must receive methadone treatments exactly at birth in order to survive.

I'm not ready to accept that a drug as powerful as heroine would not cause severe chemical alterations to a brain to the point that this brain would become chemically dependent on it for function.

I'm with you for the most part. I get that not all drug users are junkies. But your approach here and elsewhere seems to justify use of really potentially harmful drugs by demystifying its actual affect on people and blaming society and its ills as the culprit for bad and "addictive" and "adaptive" behavior.

I understand that with addiction comes adaptive and enabling behaviors, including harm to others. And I, too, am perturbed by the myth of some kinds of addictive personality enabling propaganda. But the fact is, the drugs are doing SOMETHING, and that SOMETHING must be feeling pretty good. The question is, is the "something" inherently addictive, or is there something else going on?

You are teetering on some things, and not quite coming out and saying them. So I'd love to hear what you think. I realize I'm coming in on here 2 weeks after it was posted, so maybe you won't see this comment. I'll try you again on another post. But hopefully you catch this! I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Good article. Addiction is a serious problem and we are fighting it in all the wrong ways!

Interesting article. I just like it when people even talk about harm reduction. The more people learn about harm reduction I believe that more people will believe in it. You can't get someone clean if they are dead. So many people hate drug addicts though that it will be a difficult sale to the average person. However once people see the amount of lives, money, and time that is saved through harm reduction they will change their minds.

I agree! I have found from my own experience that each substance (legal or illegal) gives you something, courage, love, a way to escape etc, and if that is what you need then you'll become addicted to that substance. I've had friends doing "hard drugs" occasionally (every 6 months to a once a year) for years without problems, while I once tried a very (in normal views) mild substance and got psychologically addicted from the first try. Why? Because it gave me what I emotionally lacked.

I've learned more about addiction through my daughter's experience. Not until I came across Dr. Gabor Mate's book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts did I really understand that not only does addiction provide safety, but addiction invites the question, Where is the pain?

Dr. Gabor Mate's work is well worth exploring. Thanks for the insightful post.