I’ve been wanting to write this post for quite some time, and I’m excited to have finally done so. A cure to addiction… Is this even possible? Before we explore this, let’s take a snapshot of what addiction is right now. At this moment in time, 2018, I feel we are at the beginning of what our understanding of what addiction even is, let alone finding a treatment for it. Are we close to a cure at this moment? Unfortunately, I don’t think so, in fact, I don’t believe we are even close. With 83 years passing since the inception of AA in 1935, we still don’t know much about what causes addiction and how to treat it; especially modern science. In 2014, there were 143 med schools in the USA, and only 14 of them had 1 class on addiction even though it’s estimated that 40% of hospital beds are occupied due to alcohol-related issues. This is staggering. It can be said that rehab is a 30+ thousand-dollar introduction to 12 step programs, and the best study that I can find is that AA has a 7-8% success rate according to the Sober Truth by Lance Dodes. Currently, 85% of rehab facilities are 12 step based. Studies show that 2.5 people out of 1000 make it to 2 years of sobriety. Yikes, but the good news is you can continuously start over. Governments have no idea how to deal with addiction. The 40 years, 1 trillion-dollar war on drugs has primarily been a waste. There are still 21 million Americans, 80% of those with alcohol use disorders, who need treatment with addiction. Estimates show that of these 21 million Americans, only 10% of those get the actual help they need. I don’t want to paint a grim picture for readers, but currently, on this planet, we aren’t doing so hot when it comes to treating addiction. In fact, we’re failing, but it’s a start.
Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob created a fantastic program called Alcoholics Anonymous that currently has over 2 million members in over 120,000 groups worldwide. There is Smart Recovery, Refuge Recovery, yoga, meditation, Recovery Elevator and more. People are trying their hardest to tackle this planet’s most pressing epidemic; addiction. Despite the bleak snapshot painted above, I feel we are on the right track. I think in 500 years when we look back, we will all be looked at as pioneers for what shaped the way for recovery treatment. Or what we’re doing now may be like bloodletting. Doctors thought for around 800 years that bloodletting was the best way to rid the body of an infectious disease. Turns out, human beings need blood. I don’t think this is the case with how we are currently treating addiction, but you never know.
Let’s discuss what I mean when I say cure to addiction. What I’m proposing should render addiction obsolete. As in it won’t happen, or least not nearly at the level of occurrence that we see today. I guess this wouldn’t really be a cure, because to have a cure, you would need a disease, and what I’ll be covering should essentially create an environment that doesn’t foster the disease. Too much of western medicine emphasizes treating existing illnesses since there isn’t much money to be made in getting at the source. When I say cure to addiction, I don’t mean addiction happens, then insert treatment. I’m saying, addiction doesn’t happen in the first place. This is the more ideal scenario. I’d be more than happy to be out of a job.
Keep in mind, this is all speculative, some of these ideas may seem so far out, so bizarre that it isn’t even a possibility… But if you give it some thought, this may make sense. Some of you will agree with this, some of you might not want what I’m proposing ever to happen. In fact, it scares me too. It’s uncomfortable. Who knows, if MP3’s are still a thing in 500 years, I may get this spot on, or I may have wildly missed the mark.
Where did I get the idea for this post? For the cure to addiction? Well, it was at my fantasy football draft in Las Vegas this past August. We were having dinner at the Hofbrauhaus House, and I was watching my two buddies argue about the dividing topic of immigration. One of them is a liberal, and the other is a conservative. They’ve had this same conversation or a similar one, the past 5 drafts. I knew I wouldn’t be engaging in this conversation, so I decided just to sit, listen and observe. As they were defending their steadfast positions with eloquent and non-eloquent diatribes based on part fact but mostly conviction, a strange thought arrived. It said the only way to solve the immigration issue is to eliminate all borders. Across the whole planet. And before we go any further, I want to mention, this post is about addiction, not immigration or politics, so please do your best to listen with an open mind. I said to myself, no, that can’t be right. That will never happen. And then the wheels in mind started moving. So much so, that I had to step outside the restaurant and sit on a bench for about 10 minutes. My brain kept connecting the dots until I said, holy shit. That’s the cure to addiction. Yippee!!
You might be saying to yourself episode 199 ended with you thanking planet earth, now you’re talking about a world with no borders. Wow, Paul, I bet you’re wearing Birkenstocks and have distanced yourself from all forms of plastic. Nope, I’m a guy who lives in Montana, a red state, who shoots clays with my shotgun for fun on the weekend, but deep down, even though some of it doesn’t sit well with me either, it feels right.
Okay, let’s explore this. In my opinion, the most profound line in “The Realm of Hungry Ghosts” by Dr. Gabor Mate, is that anthropologists have no record of addiction in pre-modern times. Contrary to popular belief, Europeans did not bring alcohol to the Native American, Inuit, and Aboriginal populations, or to South America to the Mayans, Incas or Aztecs. Alcohol has been around for 1,000’s of years and records show that all these cultures consumed alcohol. So why is that only within the past 400-500 years has abuse of alcohol and addiction been a problem. Why has is the swath of addiction caused more havoc within some social groups more than others? Before we discuss this, let’s look at the Rat Park experiment conducted by Bruce Alexander.
I first came across this study in my first year of podcasting, and I’m reluctant to say, I dismissed it. At that time, I was in the camp that addiction is roughly 80% genetics and about 20% environmental, now, I’ve done somewhat of 180. I feel that addiction is about 20% genetics and 80% environmental. Okay, back to Rat Park. The study looks at two different environments for rats. In one cage, it had a single rat. The rat has access to food, water, and cocaine. It was only a matter of time before the lone rat chose a diet of strict cocaine and ended up dying. This process was repeated continuously with the same result. You might say, duh, cocaine is one of the top 4 most addictive drugs on the planet. But what happens when the environment changes. The second environment is called Rat Park which is full of rat families, with toys for the rats to play with, with mates for the rats, and probably Third Eye Blind Playing in the background. In Rat Park, the rats have access to food, water, and an unlimited supply of cocaine. What happened? Nothing. Cocaine/addiction was no longer a problem. Eliminate stress, change the environment, and eliminate addiction. It worked for rats, it should for us right? Well not so simple, but in theory, yes, and it’s gonna take some time. Johan Hari talks about this in his Ted Talk titled, “The Opposite of Addiction is Connection.” I highly recommend watching this. He continues to say the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety. It’s connection. I would say it’s more of a combo of sobriety and connection.
I am also reluctant to say when I first saw Johan Hari’s Ted Talk 3 years ago, I dismissed it and wasn’t a big fan. Now, I think I think, for the most part, it’s spot on. Johan’s Ted talk is starting to echo a theme that has been presenting itself the more I learn about alcoholism and addiction. That addiction is not about the pleasurable effects of substances, it’s about the user’s inability to connect in healthy ways with other human beings. In other words, addiction is not a substance disorder, it’s a social disorder. Previously, when I first started the Recovery Elevator podcast, early 2015, I was in the camp that the pleasurable effects of alcohol, and drugs, were the primary drivers for addiction but now I feel that the pleasurable effects of alcohol and drugs help soothe inner trauma and our inabilities to connect healthily with other humans. On an individual level, we are not at fault for this. In today’s breakneck fast-paced world, we are living further and further away from other human beings, we falsely connect more and more via social media and our society has a significant problem with accumulating external possessions because we’re taught this is healthy. Unfortunately, much of today’s economy is reliant upon our addictions.
I feel the birth of addiction occurred with the mass displacement of people from their lands, communities, and roots that started with the substantial land grabs of the Spanish, French, Dutch, English, and Americans on our own continent. Some groups of people, who are disproportionately affected by addiction, got the raw end of the stick, and they are still paying the price. What about those who weren’t displaced from their lands, maybe someone like myself and probably several other listeners. Well, life has drastically changed for everyone on the face of the planet in the past 500 years, Especially in the previous 100, and even more so in the past 50. Before the first flight took place in 1902, it was a lot harder to leave a community. Today, I think a lot of us are still trying to figure out “where we belong” and this sense of alienation has affected some more than others. For myself, this has resulted in addiction.
Back to the absence of addiction in pre-modern times. You might be saying to yourself, Paul, I’m relatively certain borders, boundaries, tribe lines, restrictions, precincts, confines, rivers existed in pre-modern times… Yes, this is correct. But when civilizations remained settled for upwards of 500-1,000+ years, and you were lucky to have oxen and wagon, you may have never encountered a border or really knew what one was in your lifetime. If everything you needed was already in your own “rat park,” then why leave?
Now let’s explore a futuristic world without borders. Again, this scares me. Big time, but if you think about it, it’s really the only way things can go. We’ve been doing the conquer, defeat, divide, overthrow, coup, rebellion, revolution, wage war, WWI, WWII, with sticks and clubs and now with nuclear bombs. For ages. It’s not working, and human beings are starting to wizen up. The EU opened its borders up in 1985, and this has made things easier.
When will this no border fantasy world occur? I don’t know, it might not. Artificial Intelligence might have something to say about it first. With the proliferation of social media, which isn’t a genuine human connection, things may get a lot worse before they get better. But barring nuclear war, ending everything for everyone, I think this will happen in the next 300-500 years. If you’re saying to yourself, I don’t want to live next to a white person, or I don’t want to live next to a black person, well, in the next 200 years, we’re all going to be the same color anyways so please get over yourself. I think, when everyone can move about this planet freely, when we can accept all human beings as equal when we are able to establish roots and communities wherever we’d like, then I think we’ll wake up one day and see the problem of addiction slowly fade away.