This is a 7 minute talk I presented recently at my local Toastmasters club.
Heroin. Sex. Facebook. Gambling. Working too much. Exercise. Alcohol.
What’s common about all these things?
They are all forms of addiction.
One of my favourite philosophers, Alain de Botton, once said: “almost everyone is an addict, when addiction is defined as a manic reliance on something as a defence against dark thoughts”.
Also, Russell Brand, a rather famous former alcholic and heroin addict once said “I look to drugs and booze to fill up a hole in me; unchecked the call of the wild is too strong”.
But is addiction this bad? Can we overcome?
There’s a common belief about heroin addiction that if you take heroin enough times then you will become a heroin addict.
This came from a series of experiments last century where they put a rat into a small cage and they gave the rat two choices: water and water mixed with heroin. What they found over and over again is the rat would drink the heroin water and then couldn’t stop drinking it, ultimately overdosing and killing itself. This same thing happened over and over again leading us to think what we think about heroin addiction.
But imagine you seriously injured yourself today. You’d probably be taken to hospital in an ambulance and you’d most likely be given heroin. It would be much like street heroin, only more pure and effective. And when you discharged from hospital, chances are you’d continue on with your life. You wouldn’t be a heroin addict. But this contradicts what we think about addiction.
In the seventies there was another series of experiments with rats. Instead of putting a single rat in a small cage alone, they built a much larger cage, called Rat Park, and put lots of nice things inside: ramps and amusements, fresh food and lots of rats. Rats could connect with other and have sex with each other, and they provided the same drinking options: plain water and water mixed with heroin. But what they found this time around is whilst some rats tried the heroin water out of curiosity, not a single rat became hooked, not a single rat overdosed, not a single rat died from the heroin.
It seems the original rats died from lack of connection instead of addiction.
But what about seemingly good addictions? Like exercise, or working hard all the time?
Can “good” addictions be bad?
These seemingly good addictions are bad because they are about avoiding inner thoughts of our mind. They’re not about connecting with others.
I’m a reader and big supporter of The Big Issue magazine in Australia. The Big Issue is a unique publication in that it’s sold on the street by homeless people who become street vendors, they each get to keep half of the cover price which is currently $3.50 of seven bucks.
But I’ve read numerous stories about the biggest difference being a street vendor for The Big Issue makes to a homeless person’s life isn’t the income, it certainly helps, but the connections that are created between the vendor and their customers. Having customers the vendors get to know mean they start establishing human connection: something that is missing for a lot of homeless people.
We may never overcome addiction, so the key is to choose the least harmful one.
Get addicted to connecting with and helping others.
Johann Hari once said “the opposite of addiction is not sobriety; it’s connection”.
I recently saw the sequel to the cult classic 90s film about heroin addiction called Trainspotting. I’ll leave you tonight with a quote from the sequel to that film:
“You are an addict, so be addicted. Just be addicted to something else. Choose the ones you love. Choose your future. Choose life.”
Audience erupts in thunderous applause.