240: Understanding Addiction

Understanding Addiction

Understanding addiction, depression and anxiety rank high among the problems that people face. But conventional medicine often masks these problems by prescribing drugs. Johann Hari is a wonderful book author who is here today to explain the real cause of these problems and how we can solve it.

Chasing The Scream Book

In writing Chasing The Scream, Johann Hari recalls the personal journey it took for him to put the book together. He says the whole process taught him to think differently about something very close to his heart.

You see, when Johann Hari was growing up, he realized his family was dealing with issues, and that triggered his curiosity on understanding addiction. Eventually, Johann Hari went to places that had different approaches to responding to addiction.

According to Johann Hari, there are varying levels on how cultures deal with understanding addiction. Apparently, there are countries like Portugal wherein the government is compassionate when it comes to understanding addiction.

“The thing that most surprised me for the book is that it led directly to the journey. For my new book, Lost Connections, I realized I had fundamentally misunderstood what addiction was,” said Johann Hari. 

Johann Hari also shares that in countries like Great Britain, if a person steps out in front of a truck and breaks their hip, the hospital would give them a drug called diamorphine, for the pain. Incidentally, diamorphine is heroin in a medically pure form. 

“If what we think about addiction is right, it should be happening to all these people in the hospitals, but it's not. The dosage is strong, but people are not addicted to it. It's the opposite for people who do drugs in the streets,” said Johann Hari.

Rat Park

Johann Hari only began understanding addiction when he went to Vancouver and met Professor Bruce Alexander who he says changed his life. Apparently, Professor Bruce Alexander explained this theory of addiction in a different light.

Professor Bruce Alexander did an experiment way back in the 1970s using rats. One rat was isolated and did nothing but take drugs. To broaden the experiment, Professor Bruce Alexander built a Rat Park.

In the Rat Park, rats had colored balls, rat-food, and tunnels to play along with other rats.

There were also two kinds of water bottles; one was drugged water. It turns out most of the rats didn't like the drugged water, and none of them died. The isolated rats, on the other hand, became heavy users of the drug.

“What this taught me is that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety but rather connection. And that requires us to respond in a completely different way to addiction,” Johann Hari said. “Normally, we have an approach based on shame and stigma which says what we need to do is impose more suffering on people who got addiction problems. But actually, pain is the cause of addiction.”

Understanding Depression And Anxiety

Johann Hari says the cause of addiction is about not wanting to be present in your life because your life is too painful than its supposed to be. Furthermore, he explains that when we have a story about our pain, it structures our distress.

“When your story begins to shift about that, and if you realize that depression and anxiety are not what you thought they were, that's very destabilizing,” said Johann Hari. “It's only if we accurately understand what is happening, that's when we could find meaningful solutions.”

In writing Chasing The Scream book, it took Johann Hari a journey of 30,000 miles around the world interviewing experts and looking into different cultures. Ultimately, he learned a lot. We misunderstood depression and anxiety as a culture, and we've ignored what the best research shows us.

Eye-opening Situation

Johann Hari shares that in 2000, Portugal faced a severe situation. The country had one of the worse problems in Europe. For starters, 1% of the population was addicted to heroin.

Every year, they tried to solve the situation the American way. They arrested more people, imprisoned more people, but it got worse. Then one day, the prime minister and the leader of the opposition got together in an effort towards understanding addiction. Together, they decided to do something bold since the war on drugs began 70 years before.

The government set up a panel of doctors, social workers, and sociologists to make recommendations. The group went on to spend two years researching. Eventually, the panel recommended that the government decriminalize all drugs. They also suggested allocating the government budget towards turning people's lives around.

The government listened to the recommendations and put it into action. They spent some money on residential rehabilitation, therapy, and job creation. Small loans were also granted to those who wanted to start a small business. And guess what? The system worked! 

“If you trust in the journey, you will find better explanations. And those better explanations will open up different solutions. I think this is also how my Chasing The Scream book gave birth to me writing the Lost Connection.”

Lost Connection Book

The Lost Connection book details the nine real causes of depression and anxiety. It also contains Johann Hari's interactions with scientists who are discovering seven very different solutions for depression and anxiety.

“There was equally strong evidence that we have natural psychological needs. We need to feel we belong and that life has meaning, the need to feel valued and that the future makes sense,” said Johann Hari. “Our culture is good at lots of things, but we've been getting less good at meeting these deep underlying psychological need that people have.”

Personal Experience

Johann Hari recalls the time he went to a doctor during his teenage years. He told the doctor about this pain bleeding out of him and that he couldn't seem to regulate it. That made Johann Hari feel ashamed.

But then that doctor had a completely different biological story on how the brain works. So, it turned out that Johann Hari ended up being given prescribed drugs. Those drugs offered only temporary relief. Johann Hari remembers going back for higher doses but still experienced bouts of depression. Luckily, he eventually got out of that situation.

“We've been told to say to people that depression is just a brain disease or chemical imbalance and that we should just identify it by using a checklist. But we do not understand human pain,” said Johann Hari.

Grief And Depression

Johann Hari says grief is not a pathology but instead a natural and human response. Depression and grief have the same symptoms.

“A leading U.S. expert on the debate on traumatic grief told me that if we can start to admit that it can be a response to life, that requires a total system overhaul on how the whole system works,” said Johann Hari. “Depression is grief for your own wider needs not being met.”

How then can we measure depression? Apparently, depression can be measured by something called the Hamilton scale from 1 to 51, with 51 being the worst. According to the leading experts at Harvard Medical School, chemical anti-depressants on average, will move people 1.8 points on the Hamilton scale. So here, you can see why drugs are not solving people's problems.

Being Happy

Johann Hari reveals that there was a recent study about happiness involving people living in four countries —- United States, Russia, China, and Japan. The study showed that in the United States when people want to become consciously happier, they fail to do so. But in other countries, it's the opposite.

Now, how can that be? Apparently, when most people in the United States try to make themselves happier, they do something for themselves. In the other countries, their definition of happiness means doing something for someone else.

“We have an implicitly individualistic idea of what it means to be happy. And a lot of other cultures implicitly have a collective idea of what it means to be happy,” said Johann Hari. “The more you think life is about how you look to other people, how much money you have and how much status you have, the more likely you will become depressed and anxious.”

Incidentally, if we just single out the United States, Johann Hari says the Amish people have the lowest rate of depression in the United States. This is because they also have the most collective idea of what it means to be happy.

Johann Hari also points out that having good spiritual health can positively impact the reduction of depression and anxiety. He says studies showed that the positive effects of a reduction in depression, anxiety, and addiction, are extremely co-related with the intensity of a person's spiritual experience. 

“To get to the solution, we need to understand what is causing the problem. This is mostly a social, psychological, and spiritual crisis happening. People are hungry for this different kind of conversation. And I think people can see this is necessary.”


Johann Hari is the New York Times bestselling author of Chasing the Scream, which is being adapted into a feature film. He was twice named Newspaper Journalist of the Year by Amnesty International UK. 

Johann Hari has written for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and others, and he is a regular panelist on HBO's “Real Time with Bill Maher.” His TED talk, “Everything You Think You Know About Addiction Is Wrong,” has more than 21 million views. 

Get Connected With Johann Hari:

The Lost Connections


Books by Johann Hari

Chasing The Scream

Lost Connections


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Understanding Addiction – Johann Hari & Ashley James – #240

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Ashley James

Health Coach, Podcast Creator, Homeschooling Mom, Passionate About God & Healing

Ashley James is a Holistic Health Coach, Podcaster, Rapid Anxiety Cessation Expert, and avid Whole Food Plant-Based Home Chef. Since 2005 Ashley has worked with clients to transform their lives as a Master Practitioner and Trainer of Neuro-linguistic Programming.

Her health struggles led her to study under the world’s top holistic doctors, where she reversed her type 2 diabetes, PCOS, infertility, chronic infections, and debilitating adrenal fatigue.

In 2016, Ashley launched her podcast Learn True Health with Ashley James to spread the TRUTH about health and healing. You no longer need to suffer; your body CAN and WILL heal itself when we give it what it needs and stop what is harming it!

The Learn True Health Podcast has been celebrated as one of the top holistic health shows today because of Ashley’s passion for extracting the right information from leading experts and doctors of holistic health and Naturopathic medicine


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