It has long been said that loneliness can be a big contributing factor to forming a drug or alcohol addiction. By nature we are a social species, which is why being isolated often leads to depression and a penchant for substance abuse escapism. Recently this topic came up again, in reference to the nation’s opioid crisis. Thanks to a notable TED Talk and an article in The Washington Post, more attention is being focused on these dangerous links and ways to avoid a downward spiral.
The Post chose to focus on scientific evidence, touching upon components of the brain which can trigger compulsive behaviors. They singled out the striatum, which is at the base of the cranium and has strong correlations with pleasure seeking. It also can become extremely sensitive after extended periods of social isolation.
As esteemed neuroscientist Rachel Wurzman explained to the site, the striatum can translate loneliness into literal pain. Signals sent back and forth can trigger the need for a quick reward, which is where drugs, alcohol and, more recently, painkillers come into play.
“If we don’t have the ability to connect socially, we are so ravenous for our social neurochemistry to be rebalanced, we’re likely to seek relief from anywhere,” Wurzman told . The Post. “And if that anywhere is opioid painkillers or heroin, it is going to be a heat-seeking missile for our social reward system.”
She emphasized that social interactions are especially important for people who are going through recovery. Having constant human contact and support can help to rewire the brain’s behaviors (or “neuroplasticity, as she puts it) and greatly reduce the chance of a relapse. Wurzman also brought forth evidence that showed how continuous interactions can lower overdose risks.
For the record, Wurzman’s TED Talk happens to be one of the most popular videos on the network. Within the span of 18 minutes, she delves into some powerful evidence that not only show the striatum’s impact on addictive behaviors, but also how it fuels people’s internet and social media obsessions.
Taking a scientific approach, Wurzman offers compelling evidence that can hopefully de-stigmatize some of the negative perceptions about victims of the opioid crisis (and all addictions, for that matter).
“It is a fact that people suffering from addiction have lost free will when it comes to their behavior,” Wurzman explains from the TED stage. “That addiction is a brain-based disease state is a medical, neurobiological reality. But how we relate to that disease — indeed, how we relate to the concept of disease when it comes to addiction — makes an enormous difference for how we treat people with addictions.”
We highly recommend watching Wurzman’s entire presentation below and sharing these important stats with anyone who you think can benefit.