Social Connections and Addiction:
There has been a lot of insight into the advantages of social connections as it relates to the prevention and recovery of an addiction. Family, friends and a sense of belonging to a group of people has been beneficial to humans since the dawn of time. In the beginning it was a matter of survival that drove us to pool our resources; humans could collect more food, keep each other safe from dangers, and share knowledge. But in the last few decades as technology has allowed us to remain in contact with others through our phones and apps, we also as a society have slowly drifted towards more isolation and a lack of meaningful face-to-face social connections.
Many of us have heard of the “Rat Park Experiment” (great 5 minute YouTube video in link) in which rats that were left in a small cage by themselves with a choice of water or heroin-infused water. The lonely rats drank the heroin water, became addicted and eventually died. Whereas when a larger cage filled with fun rat toys (hamster wheels, balls, tunnels and lots of other rats to interact with) the rats would choose the plain water as the need for a dopamine supplement wasn’t there. Sure this is just an experiment with rats but many studies have shown that when humans have healthy social connections they are less likely to become addicted to, and also more likely to recover from an addiction to alcohol, street drugs or prescription meds.
What does this mean for us now and moving forward? We need to make a conscious effort to make sure we don’t isolate ourselves and to take care that our children, family and friends remain connected with us and others. With healthy face-to-face social connections we can lower the risk of our loved ones becoming addicted to a substance that provides supplemental dopamine (drugs or alcohol). And when trying to recover from an addiction it is crucial to not isolate, to find people or groups that can support you such as 12 steps meetings and remain connected to your loved ones.