The Leading Cause of Addiction Is Not What You Think

Addiction Counseling, Dallas, TXWhat causes addiction? Many would guess it is the substance or behavior itself and that one gets hooked to something by doing/using it repetitively.  For years, science agreed with this response, but current research has shown that almost everything we think we know about addiction is false.  I invite you to look at the bigger picture, with me, to understand why our society is reaching for these substances and turning to these behaviors in the first place. It is not because we truly want to play meaningless videogames or become a slave to drugs or porn, by rather it is because we lack connection. We turn to addictive behaviors because we need to bond. As I mentioned in my previous post about relationships, humans have an innate need to be close to others; when that need is not met, we inevitably look elsewhere. My purpose in this blog post is to expose the true cause of addiction: the absence of connection.

In this short yet highly informative YouTube video, we are given an overview of a science experiment from the 70’s called “Rat Park.” Initially, rats were placed in a cage with two water bottles–one normal and the other laced with cocaine. As you might guess, the rats became obsessed with the drugged water and eventually died from continual consumption. While Bruce Alexander–a professor of Psychology from Simon Fraser University–was working on this project, he quickly realized that the rats were practically in solitary confinement with nothing to do but do drugs! He built Rat Park, which was basically rat heaven–a lush cage with colored balls, tunnels to scamper down, plenty of rat friends, loads of interaction, as well as the two water bottles, one of which had cocaine. Surprisingly enough, the rats hardly used the drugged water, and none of them overdosed. These researchers made a striking conclusion about how addictions are formed–it is not the chemicals themselves…it is our environment that ultimately influences whether or not we participate in addictive behavior.

Humans have an inherent need to bond and connect (think amae). When we are happy and healthy in our environment, we bond with those around us and form meaningful relationships. But when we cannot (because of trauma, isolation, etc), we will start bonding with anything that will give us a sense of relief–it could be constant use of our smart-phone, video games, gambling, pornography, or harmful substances. We are driven to bond with something because that is part of our human nature!

The opposite of addiction is not sobriety; the opposite of addiction is connection. The cure for addiction is not simply to stop the behavior or substance, such as pornography or cocaine. The path out of addiction is to form healthy bonds, to connect with people you want to be present with and want in your life. If you or someone you love is turning to addiction because of a lack of meaningful connection, contact me today to schedule your first session. The way out of addiction is steep and hard, but I can assure you that it will be worth it!

Stay tuned for my upcoming post about how we can change our outlook on addiction as a society!


  1. Gina Dexter


    This was a great read! Succinct, clear, and highly informative! Thanks for educating and caring for so many!

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Melissa Cluff, MS, LMFT, CSAT

Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.