Main Cause of Addiction: Loneliness

This is a fascinating article about the roots of addiction. The article’s premise is that the main cause of drug use and addiction is not the drug itself, it is the lack of human connection a person has at the time.

“Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.

So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.?”

They reference the famous drug experiment where a rat living in isolation will consistently choose water laced with cocaine or heroin over clean water until it kills them. But when this same experiment is conducted in a virtual “rat heaven” (e.g. great food, tunnels, and multiple rats living together), the rats will mostly choose the pure water. None of these rats died.

Addiction is something our industry combats daily and it’s something that, like many of you, I have experienced with people close to me. These were people I loved and respected, but they shared a common pattern of drug use that arose during personal crises. Divorce, financial issues, or disconnection from family were always present at these troublesome times.

An illness or injury can be an isolating event, and can certainly trigger stress in a person’s life. They may have worries about health, finances, productivity—the list can be long and varied. It is vital to provide a patient not just with treatment, but also with the support system, empathy, and connection to help them manage pain and recovery responsibly.

For these reasons, Rising takes a holistic view of a patient’s health so that our interactions account for the physical/chemical, psychological, and social aspects of treatment and healing. For instance, with our early intervention program, we identify a patient’s psychological/social risk factors and we also employ a “medical concierge” approach that provides support and advocacy, assures appropriate treatment, and monitors risk throughout the continuum of care. What this article reinforces to me is that the social warning signs will often be more powerful than the physical. If a patient is unhappy at work or at home, it is a potent indicator that any addictive substance might pose a risk, particularly if used as a substitute for human bonding.

Humans are social animals. Relationships are critical—in work, in life, and yes—in recovery from injury/illness. We need to look beyond the physical and psycho-social red flags of addiction, and think of preventing addiction in terms of caring, compassion, and connectedness in our claims and medical management efforts.