The title of this news summary is a direct quote from Johann Hari, a man who grew up in a family of addicts. Hari undertook a 3-½ year, 30,000-mile journey to understand the causes of addiction and the failures of the war on drugs. He summarizes some of the findings that went into his new book, Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, in an article on the Huffington Post.
Here are a few highlights: Confine a rat alone in a cage, give him a choice of plain water or water laced with cocaine, and he will become hopelessly addicted – unto death – to the water with cocaine. But take him out of isolation, put him in a rat’s equivalent of Club Med, give him the same two choices, and he will shun the cocaine water in favor of enjoying himself with his buddies.
Does this apply only to rats? Of course not. A similar ‘experiment’ played out at the end of the Viet Nam war. A full 20% of the soldiers came home addicted to heroin. All but 95% quit – mostly without the aid of outside recovery groups. Reconnection with family, friends, and a meaningful reason for being replaced the need to hang-out in oblivion.
Now, apply this on a wider scale: One percent of Portugal’s population was addicted to heroin. Fortunately, the government had the wisdom to declare defeat when their War on Drugs only drove up the numbers. So they legalized drugs and used the same allocated funds to create community, to subsidize housing and jobs, and to offer addicts opportunities to reconnect with the feelings they’d literally been dying to avoid.
As Hari writes in his article, “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. …. Decriminalization has been such a manifest success that very few people in Portugal want to go back to the old system.”
Human beings are social animals. If we can’t bond with someone we will with something – anything – that will help diminish the pain of our existence. Professor Bruce Alexander – the man who created Rat Park, the Club Med for lab rats – told Hari 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.”