Chasing The Scream

Chasing the Scream

Originally published in the Huffington Post on January 20, 2015, as The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think.

By Johann Hari

It is now one hundred years since drugs were first banned – and all through this long century of waging war on drugs, we have been told a story about addiction by our teachers and by our governments. This story is so deeply ingrained in our minds that we take it for granted. It seems obvious. It seems manifestly true. Until I set off three and a half years ago on a 30,000-mile journey for my new book, Chasing The Scream: The First And Last Days of the War on Drugs, to figure out what is really driving the drug war, I believed it too. But what I learned on the road is that almost everything we have been told about addiction is wrong – and there is a very different story waiting for us, if only we are ready to hear it.

If we truly absorb this new story, we will have to change a lot more than the drug war. We will have to change ourselves.

I learned it from an extraordinary mixture of people I met on my travels. From the surviving friends of Billie Holiday, who helped me to learn how the founder of the war on drugs stalked and helped to kill her. From a Jewish doctor who was smuggled out of the Budapest ghetto as a baby, only to unlock the secrets of addiction as a grown man. From a transsexual crack dealer in Brooklyn who was conceived when his mother, a crack-addict, was raped by his father, an NYPD officer. From a man who was kept at the bottom of a well for two years by a torturing dictatorship, only to emerge to be elected President of Uruguay and to begin the last days of the war on drugs.

I had a quite personal reason to set out for these answers. One of my earliest memories as a kid is trying to wake up one of my relatives, and not being able to. Ever since then, I have been turning over the essential mystery of addiction in my mind — what causes some people to become fixated on a drug or a behavior until they can’t stop? How do we help those people to come back to us? As I got older, another of my close relatives developed a cocaine addiction, and I fell into a relationship with a heroin addict. I guess addiction felt like home to me.

If you had asked me what causes drug addiction at the start, I would have looked at you as if you were an idiot, and said: “Drugs. Duh.” It’s not difficult to grasp. I thought I had seen it in my own life. We can all explain it. Imagine if you and I and the next twenty people to pass us on the street take a really potent drug for twenty days. There are strong chemical hooks in these drugs, so if we stopped on day twenty-one, our bodies would need the chemical. We would have a ferocious craving. We would be addicted. That’s what addiction means.

One of the ways this theory was first established is through rat experiments – ones that were injected into the American psyche in the 1980s, in a famous advert by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. You may remember it. The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.

The advert explains: “Only one drug is so addictive, nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it. And use it. And use it. Until dead. It’s called cocaine. And it can do the same thing to you.”

But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?

In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.

The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.

At first, I thought this was merely a quirk of rats, until I discovered that there was – at the same time as the Rat Park experiment – a helpful human equivalent taking place. It was called the Vietnam War. Time magazine reported using heroin was “as common as chewing gum” among U.S. soldiers, and there is solid evidence to back this up: some 20 percent of U.S. soldiers had become addicted to heroin there, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Many people were understandably terrified; they believed a huge number of addicts were about to head home when the war ended.

But in fact some 95 percent of the addicted soldiers – according to the same study – simply stopped. Very few had rehab. They shifted from a terrifying cage back to a pleasant one, so didn’t want the drug any more.

Professor Alexander argues this discovery is a profound challenge both to the right-wing view that addiction is a moral failing caused by too much hedonistic partying, and the liberal view that addiction is a disease taking place in a chemically hijacked brain. In fact, he argues, addiction is an adaptation. It’s not you. It’s your cage.

After the first phase of Rat Park, Professor Alexander then took this test further. He reran the early experiments, where the rats were left alone, and became compulsive users of the drug. He let them use for fifty-seven days – if anything can hook you, it’s that. Then he took them out of isolation, and placed them in Rat Park. He wanted to know, if you fall into that state of addiction, is your brain hijacked, so you can’t recover? Do the drugs take you over? What happened is – again – striking. The rats seemed to have a few twitches of withdrawal, but they soon stopped their heavy use, and went back to having a normal life. The good cage saved them. (The full references to all the studies I am discussing are in the book.)

When I first learned about this, I was puzzled. How can this be? This new theory is such a radical assault on what we have been told that it felt like it could not be true. But the more scientists I interviewed, and the more I looked at their studies, the more I discovered things that don’t seem to make sense – unless you take account of this new approach.

Here’s one example of an experiment that is happening all around you, and may well happen to you one day. If you get run over today and you break your hip, you will probably be given diamorphine, the medical name for heroin. In the hospital around you, there will be plenty of people also given heroin for long periods, for pain relief. The heroin you will get from the doctor will have a much higher purity and potency than the heroin being used by street-addicts, who have to buy from criminals who adulterate it. So if the old theory of addiction is right – it’s the drugs that cause it; they make your body need them – then it’s obvious what should happen. Loads of people should leave the hospital and try to score smack on the streets to meet their habit.

But here’s the strange thing: It virtually never happens. As the Canadian doctor Gabor Maté was the first to explain to me, medical users just stop, despite months of use. The same drug, used for the same length of time, turns street-users into desperate addicts and leaves medical patients unaffected.

If you still believe – as I used to – that addiction is caused by chemical hooks, this makes no sense. But if you believe Bruce Alexander’s theory, the picture falls into place. The street-addict is like the rats in the first cage, isolated, alone, with only one source of solace to turn to. The medical patient is like the rats in the second cage. She is going home to a life where she is surrounded by the people she loves. The drug is the same, but the environment is different.

This gives us an insight that goes much deeper than the need to understand addicts. 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.

When I learned all this, I found it slowly persuading me, but I still couldn’t shake off a nagging doubt. Are these scientists saying chemical hooks make no difference? It was explained to me – you can become addicted to gambling, and nobody thinks you inject a pack of cards into your veins. You can have all the addiction, and none of the chemical hooks. I went to a Gamblers’ Anonymous meeting in Las Vegas (with the permission of everyone present, who knew I was there to observe) and they were as plainly addicted as the cocaine and heroin addicts I have known in my life. Yet there are no chemical hooks on a craps table.

But still, surely, I asked, there is some role for the chemicals? It turns out there is an experiment which gives us the answer to this in quite precise terms, which I learned about in Richard DeGrandpre’s book The Cult of Pharmacology.

Everyone agrees cigarette smoking is one of the most addictive processes around. The chemical hooks in tobacco come from a drug inside it called nicotine. So when nicotine patches were developed in the early 1990s, there was a huge surge of optimism – cigarette smokers could get all of their chemical hooks, without the other filthy (and deadly) effects of cigarette smoking. They would be freed.

But the Office of the Surgeon General has found that just 17.7 percent of cigarette smokers are able to stop using nicotine patches. That’s not nothing. If the chemicals drive 17.7 percent of addiction, as this shows, that’s still millions of lives ruined globally. But what it reveals again is that the story we have been taught about The Cause of Addiction lying with chemical hooks is, in fact, real, but only a minor part of a much bigger picture.

This has huge implications for the one-hundred-year-old war on drugs. This massive war – which, as I saw, kills people from the malls of Mexico to the streets of Liverpool – is based on the claim that we need to physically eradicate a whole array of chemicals because they hijack people’s brains and cause addiction. But if drugs aren’t the driver of addiction – if, in fact, it is disconnection that drives addiction – then this makes no sense.

Ironically, the war on drugs actually increases all those larger drivers of addiction. For example, I went to a prison in Arizona – “Tent City” – where inmates are detained in tiny stone isolation cages (“The Hole”) for weeks and weeks on end to punish them for drug use. It is as close to a human recreation of the cages that guaranteed deadly addiction in rats as I can imagine. And when those prisoners get out, they will be unemployable because of their criminal record – guaranteeing they with be cut off even more. I watched this playing out in the human stories I met across the world.

There is an alternative. You can build a system that is designed to help drug addicts to reconnect with the world – and so leave behind their addictions.

This isn’t theoretical. It is happening. I have seen it. Nearly fifteen years ago, Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in Europe, with 1 percent of the population addicted to heroin. They had tried a drug war, and the problem just kept getting worse. So they decided to do something radically different. They resolved to decriminalize all drugs, and transfer all the money they used to spend on arresting and jailing drug addicts, and spend it instead on reconnecting them – to their own feelings, and to the wider society. The most crucial step is to get them secure housing, and subsidized jobs so they have a purpose in life, and something to get out of bed for. I watched as they are helped, in warm and welcoming clinics, to learn how to reconnect with their feelings, after years of trauma and stunning them into silence with drugs.

One example I learned about was a group of addicts who were given a loan to set up a removals firm. Suddenly, they were a group, all bonded to each other, and to the society, and responsible for each other’s care.

The results of all this are now in. An independent study by the British Journal of Criminology found that since total decriminalization, addiction has fallen, and injecting drug use is down by 50 percent. I’ll repeat that: injecting drug use is down by 50 percent. Decriminalization has been such a manifest success that very few people in Portugal want to go back to the old system. The main campaigner against the decriminalization back in 2000 was Joao Figueira, the country’s top drug cop. He offered all the dire warnings that we would expect from the Daily Mail or Fox News. But when we sat together in Lisbon, he told me that everything he predicted had not come to pass – and he now hopes the whole world will follow Portugal’s example.

This isn’t only relevant to the addicts I love. It is relevant to all of us, because it forces us to think differently about ourselves. Human beings are bonding animals. We need to connect and love. The wisest sentence of the twentieth century was E.M. Forster’s – “only connect.” But we have created an environment and a culture that cut us off from connection, or offer only the parody of it offered by the Internet. The rise of addiction is a symptom of a deeper sickness in the way we live – constantly directing our gaze towards the next shiny object we should buy, rather than the human beings all around us.

The writer George Monbiot has called this “the age of loneliness.” We have created human societies where it is easier for people to become cut off from all human connections than ever before. Bruce Alexander – the creator of Rat Park – told me that for too long, we have talked exclusively about individual recovery from addiction. We need now to talk about social recovery – how we all recover, together, from the sickness of isolation that is sinking on us like a thick fog.

But this new evidence isn’t just a challenge to us politically. It doesn’t just force us to change our minds. It forces us to change our hearts.

Loving an addict is really hard. When I looked at the addicts I love, it was always tempting to follow the tough love advice doled out by reality shows like Intervention – tell the addict to shape up, or cut them off. Their message is that an addict who won’t stop should be shunned. It’s the logic of the drug war, imported into our private lives. But in fact, I learned, that will only deepen their addiction – and you may lose them altogether. I came home determined to tie the addicts in my life closer to me than ever – to let them know I love them unconditionally, whether they stop, or whether they can’t.

When I returned from my long journey, I looked at my ex-boyfriend, in withdrawal, trembling on my spare bed, and I thought about him differently. For a century now, we have been singing war songs about addicts. It occurred to me as I wiped his brow, we should have been singing love songs to them all along.

Chasing the ScreamThe full story of Johann Hari’s journey – told through the stories of the people he met – can be read in Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. It has been praised by everyone from Elton John to Glenn Greenwald to Naomi Klein. You can buy it at all good bookstores as a hardcover or eBook.

In June of 2015 Hari gave a talk at an official TED conference which you can view here: Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong

25 Responses

  1. Joe C says:

    When I read this article I found the commentary very heated. People are tied to their construct of what is addiction. Like a relationship, whereby we don’t have one feeling about someone we are enmeshed with; we have a constellation of feelings. I think there are behavioural and biochemical and emotional connections I have with addictive behaviours and substances. Back to the relationship metaphor, when we lose someone to divorce or death we might feel anger and fear and sorrow and confusion. We might accept it one moment and reject reality the next moment. I don’t think there is just one thing going on for us in our addiction relationship either.

    This is a great addition to the conversation about addiction. In some of the news feeds and discussion boards I’ve looked at, some of us drunks and junkies take this sort of talk as being very personal.

  2. Robin says:

    I’m interested in knowing how the rats would behave around the drugs if they were taken first taken away from their rat mothers before they were fully weened.

  3. wisewebwoman says:

    I do get it about the loneliness but not in the accepted “normal” use of the word. As a woman and atheist and feminist I’ve felt lonely from the first clicks of awareness. Still do, to a huge degree. Raised strict RC with an endless list of “rules” as to how Irish women “should” behave, I feel the repercussions even today. I remember a wise, wise AA member in Toronto, Roger S., saying: “There’s a wind blowing through the hole in our AA souls all the time. The only difference is that sometimes it’s like a pinhole and sometimes like the Grand Canyon.”
    I’ve felt lonely at AA meetings knowing the Invisible Cosmic Housekeeper and the ludicrous rituals he demands will not help me.
    Is there a cure for loneliness?
    I don’t think so.
    And it would be dangerous to put my 29 year sobriety on the line to find out.

    • Alan says:

      Hi www, I am lonely too, in the ‘normal’ sense and that is, I believe, partly as a consequence of never really feeling settled or comfortable in AA, never finding a sponsor or attending meetings regularly. A bit of an outsider really. The AA dogma constantly recited just gave/gives me the heebie-jeebies as it just felt/feels to me like a cult. Despite this I have remained ‘sober’ for over twenty years, probably due to a thorough and intensive period of Rehab to begin with, but it has been a lonely journey without the contact and group support that AA provides. This is both the strength and weakness with AA, step away from AA and there is suddenly a big gap. A bit like stepping away from Catholicism, ‘once a Catholic always a Catholic’ as it goes. I think this process also brings a sense of guilt and insecurity, which may in the case of AA lead to relapse. The threat of relapse is always emphasised for those who do not attend meetings or follow the path assiduously, as ‘Hell’ was/is taught as the possible consequence of turning away from God or the Catholic Church. I suppose a person is kind of excommunicated, a heretic. There are, for me, such close similarities between ‘traditional’ AA and religion. However, having come across AA Agnostica and its more open minded approach I am considering attending meetings again. And this decision has a lot to do with my feelings of isolation. Your loneliness seems to be of a more existential nature though, so I suppose this kind of loneliness will remain just a fact of life whether surrounded by a supportive group or not. However, this did not lead Camus and other existentialists to despair but a feeling of being truly grounded in the world around them.

  4. Ed says:

    Thanks, Mike H, too; I missed your post initially. There is a small informal meeting on Sunday, here, and I will try to make it on Sunday, sober or not! Ed

  5. Ed says:

    Many thanks, life-j, and Greg H. for your replies. Changing my Doctor is a good idea. I asked for her help with medication to control the withdrawal symptoms from alcohol, and she said, “No way! You have an addictive personality”. Even though I had stopped for 2 1/2 years with Librium prescribed by a previous Doctor, in a week, and voluntarily flushed away the remaining tablets when I felt well. That was 15 years ago. Thanks again. I am trying to use this long weekend to stop again, before I return to work on Tuesday. Ed.

    • life-j says:

      Ed, as for taking medications to help get off alcohol, I think it can perhaps be helpful. However it needs to be from someone who isn’t just going to prescribe regular psychofarmaca of the xanex family, but is well educated about the various alternatives. I have not studied this at length myself, and I’m not a physician, but I read this interesting article of studies, The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous, in which an opioid antagonist called naltrexone is being prescribed with apparently good results. I don’t think that this drug can replace all we find in AA, but we certainly shouldn’t dismiss as something potentially useful either.

  6. Roshni says:

    That’s a great share, for a while now I have been unable to accept a few ideas presented on addiction. Reading this it makes sense. This article also reminds me of Brene Brown’s work on shame.

  7. Chris G. says:

    I read this book a few months ago, and it changed my outlook on addiction in general, as well as on my own alcoholism. The author goes to great lengths to try and verify what he finds during his research. You have to read it through to the end to really see him coming back to each bit of evidence and trying to verify it.

    I agree with others – I’m not about to find a hug and take a drink to see what happens! On the other hand, I grew up in a loving and normal house, and had trouble relating any particular stress and suffering in connection with my alcoholism. Until I thought about it for a while, and realized my “point of no return” drinking started when I was suddenly on my own, having just lost a marriage, in a strange town, etc., etc.,…

    I can agree with a lot of what Hari says, especially the wasted war on drugs, and I still have doubts about some of it. But it is a book that is definitely a step in the right direction: this is part of an important conversation for all of society.

  8. Ed says:

    Fascinating article. I read a book back in the early seventies called “The drugs you take.” It said that Cocaine was only psychologically addictive, but Heroin and Alcohol were also physically addictive. It also said that Heroin used by people suffering from schizophrenia was a subconscious self-medication that often kept them alive, until they had grown out of it. As a member of AA, for 25 years – currently drinking, and trying to stop, for the umpteenth time – and previously abusing Cannabis, Speed, Cocaine, Heroin, Food, Sex and Fame. I have honestly worked the steps with multiple sponsors, become a much better moral person, but have not been freed from this apparent compulsion to nearly destroy myself. I still have a lot to give to my fellow human beings, but continue to punish myself by drinking. I just exist, unable to believe in a traditional religious God, wanting to go back to my friends in the meetings, but unable to accept the rituals. I would welcome any comments, positive or negative.

    • Mike S. says:

      I would go back to meetings and see your friends and not worry about the “rituals.” Good luck.

    • life-j says:

      Ed, glad you have found us here. And coming here may initially get you even more annoyed with standard AA, but eventually it will become more of a safety valve allowing you to put up with regular AA, so that you can benefit from the good things that undeniably are there. AA is just our new tribe, the people we hang with and try to learn from whatever we have use for that will help us be sober. I was a sober agnostic for many years before this place happened, and it has helped me a great deal in putting together a program that works for me, and after a couple of years of turmoil to accept regular AA again in a way that allows me to look at the similarities rather than the difference, well, most of the time. Sometimes I have a hard time making it past the Daily Reflections without getting riled up. There are days it is just too obnoxious to leave it alone. But the rest of the time I’m ok.

    • Greg H. says:


      In all these years of trying, has anybody ever steered you in the direction of looking into possible physiological imbalances that are depriving you of “serenity” even while you are clean and sober, and constantly driving you to seek some sort of relief? Probably not, almost certainly not in the rooms of any mainstream “12-Step” culture meeting, where they will consistently tell you that your fundamental problem is “spiritual,” not physiological.

      It could be that there is nothing at all wrong with you that couldn’t be completely resolved by getting off what is commonly known as the Standard American Diet (which is extremely health-destroying, psychologically as well as physically) and just consistently eating a truly healthy diet. Another possibility is that your brain chemistry is being seriously disrupted by prescribed “medications” of some sort, which may be intended to treat either a physical or a psychological condition. Sadly, most members of the medical establishment are totally fixated on the idea of superficially masking overt symptoms with artificial chemicals that have all sorts of awful side effects, while totally ignoring the underlying causes of those symptoms; and they are almost totally ignorant of all matters having to do with health and nutrition. My own cardiologist came very close to iatrogenically killing me (I ended up suffering a near-fatal heart attack requiring a bypass operation) with a bunch of FDA-approved poisons which he called “medicines” and told me I would have to take for the rest of my life, combined with a health-destroying diet that both the American Medical Association and the American Heart Association call “heart healthy.” I’m perfectly well today, healthier than most and with no signs at all of atherosclerosis or heart disease; but in order to get here I had to fire my cardiologist, throw away all the poisons he had me swallowing, and start eating a truly healthy diet (including lots of healthy saturated fats and cholesterol) that the mainstream medical establishment told me would kill me.

      So my suggestion to you, Ed, would be to shop around for a new doctor who practices what is called either “functional” or “alternative” or “integrated” medicine and get a thorough checkup, including tests for things like hormonal imbalances (e.g. insulin resistance), vitamin and mineral deficiencies, exposure to environmental toxins (such as chemicals you may be exposed to on the job), etc.

      You might also want to take a look into a couple of books that many members of my personal circle of friends in recovery have found very helpful: “The Mood Cure” by Julia Ross, and “Seven Weeks to Sobriety” by Joan Mathews Larson. The book “Under the Influence” by James Milam and Katherine Ketcham is also excellent.

      One final word: if you happen to be taking any kind of “psych meds” at all right now, please do not just stop taking any of them on your own cold turkey because the withdrawal symptoms can be horrible and even life threatening. Once you have found a new doctor, work carefully with him or her to slowly titrate yourself off any inappropriate meds you may have been taking, over the course of several weeks, or in the case of psych meds especially, even several months.

      Good luck getting well, Ed. Keep in mind what Dr. Paul O. (author of the Big Book Story “Acceptance Was the Answer”) said in the title of his own book (not an AA publication): “There’s More to Quitting Drinking than Quitting Drinking.” I would add to that, “and it’s not all just having a ‘spiritual awakening’ (whatever that is).”

    • Stephanie says:

      Ah, Ed, I hear you about the need to punish one’s self. To me, the addictive voice is the voice of self-hate. And the way I got sober was to engage in a practice where I determined not to hate myself whether I drank or not. The work of Cheri Huber was hugely important to me in that process — in particular, a book called “There Is Nothing Wrong With You.” It seems so counterintuitive – how can I accept myself when I keep doing something I don’t want to? Eventually I learned that there’s a difference between acceptance and resignation, and that in learning to love myself and believe that I deserved to be well I could eventually become well. That was my process, and I don’t know if will help you, but I offer it as someone who’s been paralyzed by a false belief in my own insufficiency. May you be well.

  9. Robin R. says:

    I have read this amazing book. I believe that there is a lot of validity in his findings and that attitudes like those implemented in Portugal would have much more positive results as opposed to the current conditions in North America.

    I am not about to risk my sobriety by declaring that now, being part of society, I am cured. I will continue regular participation in my own “AA Rat Pack”.

    • Roger says:

      As you and Wally have pointed out, as alcoholics in recovery, we need both continued abstinence and our “Rat Packs”. Thus the formulaic saying, which I believe has much merit: “Don’t drink and go to meetings”.

  10. Wally K. says:

    Thanks for the thought-provoking article, Roger. I accept that the author has some valid observations, but I am skeptical that his conclusions can be stretched across the big tent of two million AA members and put us all safely back in the cocktail lounges and international beer pong tournaments. My conclusion is that the AA program as I chose to practice it produced a change in me that removed my need for alcohol as a coping device. So, AA led to my personal Rat Park. However, I am very skeptical that hoisting an alcoholic beverage is now possible. Perhaps that act would represent a re-entry into the other cage. My sober life of the past 43 years is too valuable for an experiment with such a poor cost-benefit ratio. I am very happy that I am now capable of considering the issues in the Agnostica article without the danger of switching cages. That’s sobriety!

  11. bob k says:

    200 pages in and this book is fascinating, surprising, and disturbing. An absolutely recommended read for those seeking to be informed re: the world of addiction.

  12. life-j says:

    Goes hand in hand with my theory that if AA had been political in any way Rockefeller would have squashed it like a bug.

    It is because AA is a religious organization full of nonsense that it has been allowed to live. Yes, not thrived, but allowed to live. That it has thrived is subsequent to being allowed to live.

    It hasn’t thrived in a vacuum, but in a society where anything that challenges the evil political system we live in will be silenced by the media, and harassed by the various servants of power, until it dies. Any effort of changing society that is it’s central tenet questions the wonderfulness of our basic political and economical structures will soon die off.

    Imagine that Bill Wilson had made a program which found it central to abolish capitalism as a condition for good recovery (and this is ultimately the conclusion we will reach from reading the article above) – he would have been written off as a communist and a crackpot. Would be interesting to explore how many times this has been tried, but died in silence.

    All the loneliness and despair in our society does of course not happen in a vacuum. We are being carved up into the smallest possible consumption units, so we can buy more washing machines, and be more alone. The more alone we are, the more can our loneliness be manipulated into buying power. In a society which measures itself on GDP – where these days more speculation than production makes up that number, never mind genuinely useful production – rather than by the health and happiness of its populace, where the drive for profit is just about to finish off our planet, not as a rock that remains, but as a life supporting environment – it can not be any other way.

    Hush, hush! If we get too political here we’ll get silenced too. I imagine here I will find a large number of people who agree with me. But imagine that I go bring this to a bible belt AA meeting. I’d get shot before anyone would have a chance to say “AA is not political”. And for some good reasons of course. In AA I have learned to care deeply about many people who without a doubt are Republicans or worse – and they in turn about me. So long as I keep my political convictions to myself, and for that matter my atheism/agnosticism, and even though it is much more acceptable to spout right wing opinions within AA and it not be considered political, but only common sense, stopping just short of the n***** in the white house.

    Yes this has all been festering inside me as long as my non-belief. Good to get it out, and I’ll shut up now.

  13. Dave J says:

    Crack babies and burnt out Nam vets might make for good movies but in reality are a tiny percentage of addict and alcoholics. Most addicts are just the people across the street. To conclude that alcoholism and drug addiction are caused by not being hugged enough is ridiculous. It may be a mitigating factor, sure, but I’ve met as many addicts and alcoholics from nurturing backgrounds as not. I do agree that the “War on drugs” is futile. It’s a make work project for law enforcement and a great protection for organized crime. What would happen if we legalized ALL drugs tomorrow? The billions of dollars thrown away on drug enforcement would fund rehab clinics. The percentage of addicts wouldn’t increase. It would probably reduce with the glamor gone. Street crime would disappear. A couple of countries in South America might implode but who cares…they’re exporting human misery anyway. And hey I might be able be able to grab a burger in Detroit, south of 8 mile, without getting murdered in the parking lot. That’d be cool.

    • Lon Mc. says:

      “The percentage of addicts wouldn’t increase. It would probably reduce with the glamor gone.”

      My skepticism about this is riding very high.

    • Stephanie says:

      The author is talking about the profound forces of atomization and trauma, and reducing them to “not being hugged enough” rather profoundly misses the point.

      I’d also note that a lot of awful stuff can and does happen “just across the street.”

      • Dave J says:

        I’m sure the author is well intentioned and deeply sensitive etc… profound? Not so much. But he does remind me a lot of “Grizzly Man.” He thought all the bears needed was a hug too.

  14. Thomas B. says:

    Fascinating and mucho on target — no pun intended — review of an important book, which like Gabor Maté’s book discusses the futility and ineffectiveness of the “War on Drugs.”

    I was particularly interested in his remarks about the “human rat cat” of Vietnam. In the 1980s, a colleague and I, both platoon leaders in Vietnam, both recovered from addiction, did some of the seminal research and training of VA personnel regarding the hand-in-glove correlation of PTSD with addiction. We observed that many hardcore veteran users of opiates — I myself was a software user of Thai sticks, opium-laced marijuana — once they returned home from Vietnam switched from incredibly expensive and low quality street heroin to the typical drug of abuse for Vietnam Veterans, six packs of cheap beer.

    During the 80s we helped create a group of 20-30 veterans in recovery in the Albany, NY Capital District area, a good number prominently working within state government and for local businesses. Remnants of the original group today still are active both in recovery and within the community, gathering together to celebrate anniversaries and at Christmas parties.

    It was some of the most rewarding work I did as a recovering professional in the field of addiction, and I am gratefully privileged to have done it.

    • Alan says:

      I found this article interesting when I first read it, and the link to George Monbiot. I have heard and read a lot lately about the positive health effect that belonging to a supportive community can bring and conversely the damage a lack can cause in terms of coping with and recovering from illness or trauma. However, a degree of caution may be needed with the author Johann Hari, the name seemed to ring a bell and when I checked him out I remembered why. He has a bit of a flawed reputation among UK journalists to put it mildly. See his Wiki entry for further info. This does not necessarily undermine his case but has taken the shine off it for me.

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