The Science of Addiction and Recovery

People in recovery sometimes said in 12-step meetings that they were addicts before wthey “put in.” According to this view, putting a drug, whether alcohol or any other addictive substance, into our bodies in order to change our state of mind is the result of prior psychological, familial and social experience, experiences that then support and reinforce addictive behavior. It turns out that there is abundant scientific evidence to support this point of view, evidence presented in Johann Hari’s brilliant book, Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs.

According to the research that Hari reviews, two precursors to addiction are emotional trauma and psychological and social isolation. These findings aren’t a news flash to most addicts. Addicts repeatedly report that they felt “apart from” at an early age, and just as frequently report growing up in families riddled with addictions, parented by flawed mothers and fathers who, at their best, had little idea of what their children were feeling or what they needed. Hari cites huge longitudinal studies of children–studies, for example, in which kids and their families were observed, tested, and followed from early childhood until 18 years of age–designed to figure out how much the quality of their parenting affected their later drug use. The correlations were so high that, by observing certain relevant parent/child interactions at an early age, scientists found that they could predict with dramatic accuracy which children would later struggle with drug addiction. Dysfunctional interactions in childhood predicted higher rates of substance abuse in later life, primarily because such interactions left behind a toxic sediment of self-hatred that was so painful that drugs were sought to diminish it. These researchers concluded that childhood trauma and abuse is as likely to cause drug addiction as obesity is —> Read More