Using Connection to Transform Addiction

Using Connection to Transform Addiction
The Key to Our Mental and Emotional Wellbeing

Right now an exciting new perspective on addiction is emerging. Johann Harri, author of Chasing The Scream, recently captured widespread public interest with his Ted talk Everything You Know About Addiction Is Wrong, where he concluded with this powerful statement:

The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection. – Johann Harri

These sentiments are augmented by a growing number of experts, including addiction specialist Dr. Gabor Maté, who cites ’emotional loss and trauma’ as the core of addiction. Compare this ’emotional loss’ to Johan Harri’s idea about lack of connection and it is clear they’re talking about a similar emotional condition.

Limbic Resonance

If connection is the opposite of addiction, then an examination of the neuroscience of human connection is in order. Published in 2000, A General Theory Of Love is a collaboration between three professors of psychiatry at the University of California in San Francisco. A General Theory Of Love reveals that humans require social connection for optimal brain development and that babies cared for in a loving environment are psychological and neurologically ‘immunised’ by love. When things get difficult in adult life, the neural wiring developed from a love-filled childhood leads to increased emotional resilience in adult life. Conversely, those who grow up in an environment where loving care is unstable or absent are less likely to be resilient in the face of emotional distress.

How does this relate to addiction? Gabor Maté observes an extremely high rate of childhood trauma in the addicts he works with and trauma is the extreme opposite of growing up in a consistently safe and loving environment. He asserts that it is extremely common for people with addictions to have a reduced capacity for dealing with emotional distress, hence an increased risk of drug dependence.

Humans require social connectionHumans require social connection. Image: Timur Repin

How Our Ability to Connect is Impaired by Trauma

Trauma is well-known to cause interruption to healthy neural wiring, in both the developing and mature brain. A deeper issue here is that people who have suffered trauma, particularly children, can be left with an underlying sense that the world is no longer safe, or that people can no longer be trusted. This erosion (or complete destruction) of a sense of trust, that our family, community, and society will keep us safe, results in isolation – leading to the very lack of connection Johann Harri suggests is the opposite of addiction. People who use drugs compulsively do so to avoid the pain of past trauma and to replace the absence of connection in their life.

Social Solutions to Addiction

The solution to the problem of addiction on a societal level is both simple and fairly easy to implement. If a person is born into a life that is lacking in love and support on a family level, or if due to some other trauma they have become isolated and suffer from addiction, there must be a cultural response to make sure that person knows that they are valued by their society (even if they don’t feel valued by their family). Portugal has demonstrated this with a 50% drop in addiction thanks to programs that are specifically designed to re-create connections between the addict and their community.

Personal Solutions to Addiction

Ask not why the addiction, but why the pain. – Gabor Maté

Recreating bonds is essential in the long term, but human connection is crucial in the immediate task of clearing trauma. When a person decides to finally face and feel the pain that they may have been avoiding for years or decades, the first steps cannot be done alone.

You have to be with that pain, but you have to have support. – Gabor Maté

Johann Hari: Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong.

This support is essentially the reintroduction of the care and support which is so important in creating the neural structure of emotional-resilience in early life. By doing so, we begin to replace what was missing, and thanks to the revelations of neuroplasticity we now know that you can, in fact, teach an old dog new tricks; neural rewiring is possible in adult life. Though it is essential for addicts to feel supported in order to finally face and feel the pain they have been trying to avoid, this is ultimately an inner journey that must be taken by the individual.

Whatever you do, don’t try and escape from your pain, but be with it. Because the attempt to escape from pain creates more pain. – The Tibetan Book Of Living And Dying

The Roots of Healing

When we are young, our parents care for us until we are able to do it for ourselves, after all, they won’t be there to do it for us forever. Perhaps on an emotional level, this is also true: our parents love us so that we may learn to do it for ourselves. The programs in Portugal have demonstrated that addicts do remarkably well when they feel valued by their community. Whether they realise it or not, the Portuguese are creating positive limbic modeling by valuing the addicts so they can learn to value themselves. When people are there to provide loving support for an addict wishing to face the emotional pain they carry, they are loving them and caring for them until they can learn to love themselves. With this in mind, perhaps the neural-wiring of emotional resilience developed through the loving reflection of another, once fully developed, could simply be called self-love.

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Kestrel Chris Kinney
6 years ago

I am having a really hard time understanding why I don’t hear more about addiction increases being related to the resource stress of the natural environment. In my view, the natural environment being “abused” through over consumption and increased population is a big part of creating the despair “hole” addicts feel. If we exceed the carrying capacity of the earth, does our brain turn to self destruction by nature? Is hard core addiction really just pleasurable suicide? It is the same in my view to watching someone abuse your birth mother. It’s gonna create despair, and the brain appears to crave self destruction. I wonder if addiction is the precursor to population collapse. I wonder if there are historical accounts of the increase in addiction in cultures facing collapse. I wonder if one day the scholars will look back at us and write “The culture looked to the individual or the family for the cause, when the degradation of the entire living ecosystem was the root cause in destroying mental health across the planet. They missed the connection.” Is addiction and self destruction an unconscious instinct?

6 years ago

Law Of Attraction (the real one)–upBdQ&

The Human Soul – Emotions, Truth & Families

The Human Soul – Logic, Emotions & Truth

Emotional Processing

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Fear, Emotions & False Beliefs

Mastering Fear

The Power Of Your Soul

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Secrets Of The Universe

6 years ago

my assistant was needing NC DMV LT-262 several days ago and encountered an online platform with a huge forms library . If people are wanting NC DMV LT-262 too , here’s a

Maria Nikl
6 years ago

Yes, and this is not new to me. What I would like to call attention to is the limited “forms of addiction ” that we consider addiction. Do we consider losers addicts? Under and over achievers? Do we consider jokers addicts? Do we consider roller coasters addicts? Or people prone to accidents? Attention deficit? Hiders? The quiet ones? Self sabotagers? Chronic empaths?
Addicts ot not?? Or will addiction remain alcoholism and drug abuse?

Grace Emma
6 years ago

The real connection that is missing is the connection to God. People come in and out of each other’s lives. There must be spirtual inner work done to truly heal. The only sober/clean people who have the longest success rate are the ones who allowed God to work through them.

Seb LN
7 years ago

That will create a different addiction… to connection… again dependency to others… Meditation as the discovery of the deep human nature/mind and existence does get rid of any addiction, cutting them from the roots…

7 years ago

of course it would be the solution but u cant restore what u dont have..

Roving Hard
7 years ago

Most addicts have known this for years. I was a mistake, although there is not one person in my family circle who openly & honestly wants to admit to this. Being the youngest of three boys. Eight years between me &my eldest brother, seven years between me & the next. Obviously my mum & dad where only planning on having two children. So I was unwanted. Dad left my mum when she was seven months pregnant. My mother was convinced by family & friends she was carrying a baby girl, which my mum desperately wanted. She already had two boys. So on her own she gave birth to me. When she was informed of my gender she rejected me. I love my mum & she did her best to hold it together. Mum went home & left me at the hospital for 7 days. Not one person other then my grandfather, my dad’s dad came to see me in that week. On the eighth day mum returned to get me. Thankfully! Mum, I believe suffered a severe case of post natal depression. Thirty five kilometres from town, no licence no car no support. I think she had very valid reasons for leaving me there. This though I think had a significant effect on the rest of my life. Growing up I can’t ever recall anyone giving me any effect on. I was never told I was loved. Was never cuddled. I really felt like I was an unwanted child, but I continued on in silence about my thoughts on how all this was affecting me. Having dramatic impacts on my entire life. Age 4 I was severely burnt by boiling hot water. From the belly button to the knees. From the age of 6 I was being groomed by a child rapist. Age 10 I was dragged into a shed and violently rapped kicked & punched, spat on & told that nobody wanted me. And that I would die whilst I slept if anyone ever found out. To this day I still hate falling asleep. My eldest brother & my dad would use me for a punching bag. Even when I’d done nothing to warrant any punishment I would still be punched & kicked by my own brother & father. By age 15 I’d become an intravenous drug user. Heroin, amphetamines, cocaine, cannabis. Alcohol, nicotine, caffeine.
Anything that increased my heart rate would make me feel better then I did.
Today I have no connections. I am still an addict. I am now 42 & feel as though I will live with my addictions for life. I have six beautiful children whom I love & adore. Two failed relationships. My three eldest were taken away an alienated from me by there vindictive hurtful mother. The next three being boys who have now been stolen from me as I was there primary carer. My youngest was stolen from he’s mother at three hours old & FACS the NSW Government department has not once let me meet or have any contact with him since they stole him. My other two boys where stolen in the middle of school, no goodbye no nothing. It’s like they were kidnapped. Not knowing there whereabouts or where they are is devastating to a recovering addict. Seeking help for my addictions from those who offered assistance has been used against me to suggest I’m a danger to my children. They were those connections I was missing. I’ve now spiraled down to where I was before my two older boys came into my care. Not one person wants to admit the part they played in shaping myself into a full blown drug addict. Consistently I’m made feel like a dirty junkie when in actual fact I’m the total opposite. I am employed and somehow maintain the ability to strive towards the personal goals I have. Even in the face of so much adversity I struggle forward. No support from anywhere, so I continue on this socially unexcepted path of an addict. When your entire life is full of so much sadness & misery, anything that makes you feel good about who & what you are is worth while. This up hill battle I’ve been fighting for 42
years is taking its toll on me. Fear of falling fast asleep doesn’t help the situation either. Why is it, if there’s anyone out there that can explain this mess in my head, that there was so much influence by others, the way it moulded me & what it shaped me into was not entirely by choice. Yet I’m ridiculed to the full extent by those who hurt me. I’m so alone & have no support or help from anywhere. With a strength I didn’t know I had I’m somehow still holding down a job whilst dealing with these emotions that sometimes cripple me & stop me in my tracks. My habits are overwhelming me in my endeavour to deal with these feelings I’m suffering from. I need those much needed connections back to reverse my addictions again. Surprisingly the intellects have got it right. When your appreciated genuinely loved unconditionally your cravings for your addictions decrease. I’m scared cause with the loss & alienation from my children is making those addictions worse then ever. What do I do???

Melody de Lilaar
7 years ago

Dear Kelly, may i point you on your right as described in de VN / UN human rights ; they may never take your child away because of your handicap !!! Agoraphobia is luckely an official by the VN / UN recognised official handicap ! The gouverment has to support handicaped parents in their task to care for their children. You need to know this is your human right. Please contact an good human rights lawyer and let he investigate this right and fight for your rights. i have this handicap too and my kids are healthy and smart and never taken away. And they never can because this human parents and children rights VN law protects handicaped people. Maybe they did take your daughter away on base of your addiction, but they may not do that on base of your handicap ! If they said so you can fight it. i connect now with you, i hope this hand reach and information about your human rights gives you hope and the key to get your daughter back. Keep us updated dear and fight via a good human rights lawyer for your right !

Carola Marashi
7 years ago

This is so important to hear! “I love you. You’re not alone. I’m here for you.” Instead of sobriety, focus on connection. I’m sharing this with everyone I know! Thank you for following your heart and discovering what our hearts really want!

Andrew Marais
7 years ago

I read this today and it is important: Nothing is so insufferable to man as to be completely at rest without passions, without business, without diversion, without study. He then feels his nothingness, his forlornness, his insufficiency, his dependence, his weakness, his emptiness. There will immediately arise from the depth of his heart weariness, gloom, sadness, fretfulness, vexation, despair.

Paul H
7 years ago

Always fascinated by the way that some professionals in this field will appropriate outcomes from AA, repackage and rebrand them as if they were new – and will then criticise AA as part of their product differentiation! A la Peele, Dodes, Trimpey, Mates (although I thought that Ellis’ materials in this field actually added to the body of knowledge and practice, despite being in part built upon observation of AA outcomes).

Hari doesn’t count. He just seems like a shameless opportunist.

Randy Herrel
7 years ago

I tend to agree with this but what about those addicts that come from “normal, loving families”? Or is it just there are always exceptions to the rule, so to speak?

7 years ago

Everything we think we know about addiction is NOT wrong… in truth science has been uncovering and publishing on this stuff for decades. What IS wrong with how we approach addiction is the idea that it can be simplified into just one thing like connection. Or that addiction is just a brain disease. Or that it is really about underlying adverse childhood experiences. In truth, addiction is all these things. And what makes treating addiction not so simple is that to experience rewarding connections with people, developmental capacities most often constricted in childhood must be developed. The therapy is relational, often slow, and emotionally attuned to the client. There is no one approach that works better than all others, but there are approaches that get the job done better than other approaches. For example, AEDP, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, attachment psychotherapy and others all help close the gap between clients chronological age and their emotional (IQ) age by being attuned to the body and emotion. Talk therapy, CBT and others have there place, but often don’t help clients learn to “connect” with others in emotionally mature ways. For more check out my blog: (all free content!)

Anne M
7 years ago

I am new here, but does anyone at “Disqus’ or “UpLift” review these posts and what is on them? Very curious. Thank you in advance…………

Anne M
7 years ago

I think he nailed it.We never think about the ‘roots’ of why someone overeats/drinks and sadly, many do not know ‘why’ they overeat/drink, etc. IT is hard to make someone ‘unaware of their feelings and emotions’ to be aware. First there is the thought, coupled with the emotion, then action. So, ” i feel lonely’, and thus ‘am lonely’, and feel: lonely, fearful, frustrated, angry, sad, etc. and action: eat/drink/sex/gamble anything to not feel. So, if we can work on FEELING our feelings from a young age, and its okay to be afraid, fearful, sad, and this too shall pass, that all feelings are ours. own it, but we dont. Took 50 yrs to be aware and ‘feel’ my feelings. But still turn to food (and as clinician, know full well i am doing it, yet still do it). Am on a path, but stories like this that are helpful. Funny thing: a Theory to Love is on my bedstand. IT is THE hardest read on the planet. I have heavy science background and boy, oh boy, very hard read. Choppy and words I have never seen ever. Thus, its like mud to read each page. But, this talk was delightful. But meditation, connecting daily with humans, being outside in nature regardless of weather, and not using FB , twitter, cell phone (except when needed ) is key. And…… helping our teens not to be on cell 24/7. They do not talk ‘to ‘ each other anymore. Scary………. Thanks for being here.

Jean Priice
7 years ago

Facing the pain, not denying the hurt and the loss and NOT trying to escape it or dull it or cover it with behaviors or substances…that is to me what makes the difference between health and addiction. There is so much of the….change=loss=feelings of pain…at the HEART of addiction! And learning about grief and having the tools to grieve in healthy ways is at the heart of BOTH preventing AND of treating addiction! Healthy grieving is about accepting the reality of the happening and the pain! Telling the story. Making it real. Feeling the feelings! Only by doing this can we begin to build a new realty which includes the loss and allows the pain. And allows us also to work through it all! Then with support and practice, we can find a way to let go and to reinvest ourselves in life, in community…in CONNECTIONS!!. The issue isn’t whether or not to grieve…this just happens regardless! The issue is whether to grieve in healthy ways or unhealthy ways…which side of the mountain to head down! And denying the loss and the painful feelings is s slippery slope. You need something to dull the pain, a behavior or a substance. But it wears off, the pain surfaces, and you have to use more…repeating this over and over until addiction takes over your life, and possesses you! Life is full of change, and each change creates loss…even the chosen changes!! With loss comes feelings of pain, deep spiritual pain when we talk about the loss of loved ones, or about the loss of betrayal in abuse! Yet we don’t teach grief! We don’t teach about change, and we could! Starting with our children, who go through many changes even in their early years. Until we start looking at this and realize it’s at the core of so many issues and so easily stacks up in life so cause complicated grief issues, we will continue to have those who seek to deny their feeling, their mental and emotional pain from life happenings! And no amount of drug therapy or counseling and rehab will help in the long run. Rehab is proven ineffective for many! It’s now mostly about cloistering people away from the substance, not dealing with the why’s of choosing to use. How does addiction stop…when the pain of USING becomes higher than the pain of facing our losses and feelings! And community is needed to support those who choose to stop this destructive cycle.

7 years ago

The personal relationship missing, the love connection , has merits. The value of the individual and how much God loved and sacrificed for them was demonstrated in John 3:16. If this Biblical verse could be competently shared to children, at a tender age, they would grow up with the inner confidence how much they are loved. And God, if asked, could be the only one trusted to supply all their needs, physical and emotional. It is expected of the human race to work hand in hand with God to meet these daily needs, too. God not only speaks to the individual, but to all the nations, too, John 3:17. Unto us a child was born, His name shall be Wonderful and Prince of Peace, KING OF kings, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. ISIAH 9:6—

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