'The Opposite of Addiction Is Connection'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

One of the best books I read this year was Chasing the Scream, in which author Johann Hari persuasively argues that most people fundamentally misunderstand the nature of drug addiction—how relatively little of the draw is due to the chemicals themselves, even the most powerful ones like heroine. To get a wonderfully distilled version of the book, check out this animation created by a fan:

If you want to listen to a longer version of this argument, Hari did a popular TED talk this summer. And of course for his full argument, buy the book. I compiled a bunch of reviews, favorable and otherwise, here. For instance, Miranda Collinge of Esquire called the book a “fascinating, extensively researched and heartfelt contribution to a debate over drugs policy that continues to rage today”:

It’s a pattern Hari observes again and again through the decades: a zealous, misguided or sometimes deeply prejudiced person in power decides to eradicate the social blight of drugs, forcing, even offering, the drugs trade to criminals, while the hopeless and the helpless are caught in the crossfire. He meets scientists, counsellors, addicts and dealers who point out the folly of this approach, which he backs up with studies of murder rates, the workings of the human brain and, particularly memorably, self-fellating rats.

Drunk elephants, stoned water buffaloes, and tripping mongooses also make an appearance. From the book:

The tropical storm in Hawaii had reduced the mongoose’s home to a mess of mud, and lying there, amid the dirt and the water, was the mongoose’s mate — dead. Professor Siegel, a silver-haired official adviser to two U.S. presidents and to the World Health Organization, was watching this scene. The mongoose found the corpse, and it made a decision: it wanted to get out of its mind.

Two months before, the professor had planted a powerful hallucinogen called silver morning glory in the pen. The mongooses had all tried it, but they didn’t seem to like it: they stumbled around disoriented for a few hours and had stayed away from it ever since. But not now. Stricken with grief, the mongoose began to chew. Before long, it had tuned in and dropped out.