The Importance of Connection in Addiction Recovery

Feb 10, 2022


As Valentine’s Day draws near, we may find ourselves examining our current relationships or lack thereof. Connection is a basic human need that begins with our ability to attach in the neonatal months. Healthy bonding and attachment can lead to a lifetime of balanced relationships, while early attachment disruption can lead to lifelong relational patterns that may trigger feelings of loneliness, isolation, depression, and even substance use. Johann Hari said it best, “The opposite of addiction is not recovery; the opposite of addiction is connection.”

We all need to connect - to attach - to feel as if we belong. This need is basic to our human survival. When people can’t healthily connect themselves to others because of trauma, poor coping, chronic anxiety, loss, or any other reason, they will undoubtedly find a replacement. Substances fill the void of connection and belonging quite well. So well, in fact, that they end up driving a person further into isolation.

Our society has long regarded addiction as something to punish and outcast. We have been taught that strict sentencing and harsh consequences are appropriate measures for people caught using substances. Unfortunately, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Addiction is a predictable, chronic, relapsing disease of the brain and body. It is classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders- 5, also known as the psychiatric guide of mental illness, as a mental health condition. Nancy Regan’s campaign to “Just Say No” was based on a false idea that the person using substances somehow has a choice. While it’s true they may have had a choice the first few times they used, at some point, they lost that control. It’s at this invisible line that the physiology of addiction takes hold, and the individual now must use substances in order to not be sick. They never meant to take it that far, but the physiology of the addicted brain tells the individual that if they don’t use, they simply will die. No amount of rationalization can overcome that signal, which is why medication assisted treatment (MAT) is such a revolutionary approach to addiction medicine.

When a person has suddenly found themselves trapped in the isolation and bewilderment of active addiction, far beyond that silent line no one has ever seen, we then punish them and isolate them further. Society’s chosen response to addiction has only made the problem worse. What we need to be saying to the people in our lives who misuse substances is that we love them, and we care about their wellness. They matter to us, and we absolutely care whether they live or die.

We need to tell them that there is a solution, and that they are not alone.

For a person who uses substances to find sustained, long-term recovery, they must begin to feel connected and accepted. No one can get well alone. They need to find people who mirror back to them the highest versions of themselves and help each other to stay vigilant. This is exactly what we aim to offer at Adventist Health.

If you or someone you know is battling the loneliness of active addiction, Adventist Health can help. Please contact our Adventist Health Ukiah Valley Medical Office to ask about our addiction treatment programs today, 707-274-9299.

Learn more about substance use and how connection can help in recovery, Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong | Johann Hari