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The Opposite Of Addiction Is Not Sobriety

Johann Hari, author of the New York Times best-selling book “Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs,” has been exploring the true cause of addiction, something he believes is largely misunderstood.

In a Ted Talk filmed last month, Hari challenged the belief that addiction is caused by chemical hooks, saying patients who receive painkillers after medical procedures but have no issue getting off the drugs largely disprove that theory.

“If what we believe about addiction is right, if those people are exposed to all those chemical hooks, what should happen? They should become addicts,” he said. “It doesn’t happen.”

What Hari believes to be the cause of addiction – be it drug addiction, gambling addiction or even addiction to your mobile device — is a lack of human connection.

“Human beings have a natural and innate need to bond. And when we’re happy and healthy we’ll bond and connect with each other,” Hari explained. “But if you can’t do that — because you’re traumatized or isolated or beaten down by life — you will bond with something that will give you some sense of relief. Now that might be gambling, that might be pornography, that might be cocaine, that might be cannabis, but you will bond and connect with something because that’s our nature, that’s what we want as human beings.”

Watch Hari’s Ted Talk above.

“For a hundred years now we’ve been singing war songs about addicts,” Hari said. “I think all along we should have been singing love songs to them. Because the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.”

Read Johann Hari’s blog for The Huffington Post, “The Likely Cause Of Addiction Has Been Discovered, And It Is Not What You Think,” here. Hari will be speaking on August 26th in Edinburgh, in early September in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, and in mid-September in Mexico City. For details of these events go towww.chasingthescream.com.

Wrapping it up

We hope that you found this article fascinating and helpful. If you are struggling with an Addiction or know someone who is. Please feel free to contact us and we can help you with your next steps.

Cherrywood House is a rehabilitation centre for people suffering from substance and other addictive disorders. It is situated in the tranquil, semi-rural environments of Constantia, Cape Town, South Africa. We offer  Residential Programmes, Aftercare Support Services, Outpatient programmes, Family Support Groups. For more information. Visit our Website Here.

How Do Addicts Make Decisions

By Jeanene Swanson 06/02/15

Learning about the economics of decision-making could mean the difference between relapse and long-term sobriety.

Most, if not all, addicts and alcoholics struggle with quitting and staying sober. And many have an equally hard time understanding why. What if would-be recovering addicts and alcoholics knew more about what goes into the making decisions—and how setting and achieving goals, and putting value on rewards, goes wrong in addiction? Learning about the economics of decision-making will not only make life in recovery easier, but it could mean the difference between relapse and long-term sobriety.

Temporal discounting

The concept of temporal discounting is not new. In fact, it can be traced back to the earliest philosophers. In temporal discounting, people put less value on more distant rewards. “A bird in hand is better than two in the bush,” as the saying goes—the distant, seemingly-uncertain reward, even while greater, appears less valuable than the more immediate, certain one.

Many studies have shown that addicted people show higher temporal discount rates.And that’s at the crux of a substance use disorder. If all the reward from using heroin, let’s say, came 20 years down the road, and the problems with relationships, or the law, came immediately, addiction wouldn’t exist in the same form as it does now. “The immediacy [of the reward] is integral to the problem of addiction,” says Dr. John Monterosso, a professor at the University of Southern California and author of an intriguing article with Dr. George Ainslie on the behavioral economics of will in recovery.

Living in Recovery

There is a difference between recovery and abstinence.

It took me close on ten years to figure out the difference between the two. One is a fight, the other is freedom. I’ve often heard people saying that it’s a constant fight to stay clean. In my opinion that is abstinence, if you are truly in recovery there is no fight. The desire to use has left me and my days are about freedom of choice. I know I can decide to use if I want but I don’t have that pull any longer. Don’t get me wrong, obsession is still alive and well in me, it just manifests itself in other areas of my life or tries too.

I have the ability to “log” off and sit on the couch all day watching TV. I also have the ability to let my need for pleasure take over and run my life, I don’t mean with drugs or alcohol. If something like sex makes me feel good, I have ability to become too dependent on it. The pleasure centre of my brain is abit broken it seems, my experience shows me that I will do whatever it takes to feel good. One key aspect of addiction I need to remember is that if I’m a drug addict, using drugs doesn’t satisfy that craving. If I’m an alcoholic, drinking doesn’t soothe that thirst. It shows me that the drugs were not the problem. The problem is me and what’s inside of me. My coping mechanisms are did functional, my ability to handle stress is limited, and I coped with situations by putting chemicals into my system, an exterior feeling exterminator if you will. Something had to change.

My life is not easy, I still have my struggles. My life is simpler though, I have a basic routine that I follow that seems to help keep me in check. I do all the same things that got me clean at the beginning of recovery and guess what? A miracle happens, I stay clean. Those few simple things are as follows;

Pushing Through

It’s not always rainbows and sunshine in early recovery. Gone is the myth, just because I’ve stopped using everything will be okay now. On the contrary, because you’ve stopped using or acting out on your addiction you will start to see the REAL wreckage of your past. All those feelings that have been pushed down for so many years start to surface. Don’t back away, it’s now time to move forward and start sorting through it all.

Pushing Through To Recovery

My experience with this was particularly moving. There have been very few times in my life when I have experienced such an immense amount of freedom through turmoil. Digging into the shame and guilt of the past was difficult but I noticed the harder it was to feel and deal with, the more freedom I experienced.

It isn’t and hasn’t always been easy since those days.
I’ve often heard people say “Life on Life’s terms” and I realize that I’m not only powerless over my addiction but I’m powerless over people, places and things.

Personal Time

Our primary goal at Cherrywood House is to steer clients and families through their chaos and pain, to a place of freedom, reconciliation and joy. Our team and our program is specifically geared towards ‘relentless but sensitive therapy’. We believe that we have to dis-empower the dynamics of the addiction in order to empower our clients with the motivation and confidence to take personal responsibility for their life and growth.

An essential ingredient of lengthy and successful recovery, is the self-discipline of developing a healthy ‘personal time’ where clients learn how to participate in enjoying our beautiful planet and start to stop and smell the roses. The simple things of life that addiction robbed us of like walking the dog, playing on the beach, preparing a family meal or just reading in the quiet of the morning, are within our reach once recovery begins.

Once those life controlling urges of ‘getting and using and looking for ways and means to get more of the drug’ have been dis-empowered or removed, other healthy activities have to be created to exist it their stead. If life becomes all about sitting around doing nothing, or busy-ness busy-ness busy-ness, it gets terribly dreary or really tiring and these then become the climate for a relapse.

Our desire is that our clients can start to learn how to simply ‘be’ and to ‘know’ the splendour of freedom and to break away from the destructive hiding places that they ran to in chemicals.

Self Discipline

A drug addiction recovery process

 Coming out of an addiction and into a new normal happens in phases. We do not simply put the chemicals down and then find ourselves as a central figure in our perception of what normal really looks like. We come out of the fog of war and into a therapeutic environment, but at that point we are not in recovery, we are in treatment.

Recovery can only start to develop as and when we leave treatment and we start to play our part on planet earth, on life’s terms, where everyone around us can start to relax around us, without substances to support or comfort us. Too many people want what they believe to be normal from the moment they put the chemicals down and this desire for immediate gratification via the path of least resistance, usually manifests itself in some very damaging behaviours:

  1. Going into romantic relationships ‘falling in love’ during treatment.
  2. Going into high pressured employment positions straight after treatment.
  3. Going into addiction counselling positions as an extension of their own treatment program without ever really contributing to the demands of the workplace outside of a therapeutic environment.

Where many people relapse and/or go on to find themselves in situations that they are not emotionally mature enough to handle with integrity, I would argue that ‘self-discipline’ is the missing character attribute in most, if not all of these false realities and more.

Self-discipline says, ‘well yes of course I would love to be happily married, earning mega-bucks and helping people’, but at this stage of my development, if I was asked; ‘would you marry, employ, put your life in to the hands of a person like you right at this moment in time’ – I would have to concede, ‘no, not yet’.


From a very early age children spend much of their time alone or with groups of other children, under distant supervision rather than individual direction. Instead of being managed, they are expected to manage themselves. Instead of depending on enforced obedience and external controls, their behaviour has to depend upon voluntary obedience and the internal controls that we call the ‘conscience’. If parents want to cultivate self-discipline in their children but are trying to do so in the growth medium of that ‘good disciplinarian’, it is not surprising that they are finding it an anxious struggle.

Self-discipline in the child is a slow growing plant with roots in identification with the parents/parental figure. Learning to behave and to be comfortable behaving that way depends upon parental influence rather than power; on the warmth of the relationships that adults offer the child rather than the clarity with which they issue orders. Children need to be shown what they should do and prevented from doing what they should not do and they need honest explanations for each piece of the everyday snippets of advice and instruction.

Shepherding (counselling) means being there to praise and reproof so that they can generalise from one tiny incident to the next, gradually incorporating clusters of behaviour into a vast jigsaw puzzle of values which will stabilize the ethical and moral framework within them – welcome to recovery, at this point, from a stable internal character compass, you may get married, have kids, hold your own in any workplace, possible even earn a fortune, but most importantly, really help the people around you.

Read more about the treatment of drug addiction.

Social Disease

Coming from an emotionally honest, loving and stable background, my 12 years of intravenous heroin addiction with over 6-years in 27 different prisons, confused everyone.

Visits from and interviews with Doctors, Psychiatrists, Social Workers, Probation Officers, Addiction Counsellors and even clergy, left me convinced that my state was not only hopeless because it was without definition, but that I was hopeless as an individual because it was me who was carrying this thing around.

As and when I said ‘I just don’t believe addiction is a disease’ I was quietly told that this was all a part and symptom of the addiction and its characteristic denial. My quiet conclusion was ‘well in that case, if it is a disease that tells its victim that it is not a disease, everyone suffers from it’!

I looked around me and all I could see was unemployment, broken marriages, single parents, criminal activity and a persistent niggle of discontent.

I attended between seven and nine meeting a week for four years at NA and/or AA, identifying myself with “I’m Jack and I’m an addict” or “I’m Jack and I’m an alcoholic” – simply because that  was the way things were expected to be done. To question ones diseased status was treated as being in ‘denial’ and in many instances, met with a could shoulder because you must surely be ready to relapse.

The Minnesota Model of addressing my addictions really brought life changing attitudes and beliefs into my view of the world and the role I had to play in life, and its proponents told me that my addiction was a disease – so it must be true, it had to be true, it must be a disease. But still, the niggle would not leave me that I was polluting a really healthy family line by just blending in and becoming like the people I mixed with – just like in my addiction, but I simply did not know that there could possibly be another ‘diagnosis’ to consider. Today I do.

The Socio-Cultural Influence

A very healthy idea within 12-Step recovery circles is one of each individual taking personal responsibility for the use, abuse and addiction to chemicals and for the corresponding consequences of that addiction. We have learned over the process of many years, working with street kids, down-n-outs and with the wealthier members of society, that addictions are not what we originally thought them to be and that each and every addicted individual person we came across has a wide variety of contributing factors outside of themselves which played a significant role in the problem at hand.

Within each individuals family and personal context we inevitably find attitudes and behaviours which have socially shaped the individual in our care. The nature of society itself plays a significant role in determining the manner in which the individual and his peer group relate to social conditions. The family, the circle of friends, and the environment around them are crucial in both starting and maintaining substance use and abuse. It is under the influence of these primary structures that each individual’s attitude to drugs is developed and at the beginning of the road to ruin of chemical dependency, the chemical supply comes almost invariably from within the immediate social circle.

Compulsive destructive drug use is much more common in poor and underpriviliged communities. These are the people with very little if any prospect of adequate education or material advance, whose families are broken and splintered and who are frequently exposed to criminal behaviour. They have very little to look forward to, very few social skills and inter-personal relationships have very few if any points of inspiratrion and they see no reason to admire or aspire to the values of the affluent whom they see on televison or in the big car driving by.

The Socio-cultural belief, in full agreement with Peele’s comment in his ‘Social Disease’ theory; ‘addiction in its various forms is an adaptive mechanism widely resorted to by normal individuals in society – by all of us, perhaps. It constitutes a search for something external and secure to give reassurance in the absence of a deeply felt connection with life’ (The Experience of Addiction).

Having now worked in some of the world’s harshest prisons, with the homeless and within the private clinic environment with addicted individuals from the affluent sector of society for many years, I have found the similarities are striking. During the process of exploring the dynamics of addictions across the social spectrum, relevant to each personal context, a state of anomie has inevitably proved prevalent where individuals ‘pursue their own goals with little concern for the common good’. The chemicals used may have varied from the extremely cheap home-made booze to the very expensive crack-cocaine and ecstasy, but the social conditioning of the contrasting cultures produced the same results, treatment for chemical dependency, and the need for the 12-step recovery programme.