Opiates and Social Media Are Symptoms, Not Causes

A number of years ago I read a book that changed everything about how I think about addiction. The book is called Lost Connections.

The main premise is this: the difference between a homeless person and someone living on the street not being able to get off of a street drug, and an everyday person who goes into hospital and takes way stronger drugs long enough to get addicted—but doesn’t—is that the everyday person usually has something to go back to.

The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety – it’s connection.

Johann Hari

Johann Hari

This blew my mind. The idea that it isn’t about drug, but rather the person’s presence of meaning—or not—that determines whether or not they get addicted to substances.

There are many variables here, and I’m not making blanket statements that are supposed to apply to every situation.

I see a lot of similarities with the current hysteria around opiate usage and people abusing social media. There’s a narrative that, “the opiates must be stopped!”, and that, “social media is killing our kids!”.

I don’t think they are. Are they good for you? They can be, when used appropriately. Are they being abused? Yes, clearly. But I think the problem is ultimately what Hari talks about in his book. It’s the lack of something bigger than the drug or social media in peoples’ lives.

We’re in a crisis of meaning. People are empty. People are lost. We have girls pretending to have Tourette’s as a way to feel seen and/or become popular.

I would argue that the underlying cause for so much of what we see going wrong with our young people is simply a lack of direction and meaning. And I don’t blame them. I don’t even necessarily blame their parents, although that’s closer to the mark.

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The real causes are obviously multivariate, but I believe they mostly exist at the layers of society and culture.

Like what are the instances of illness appropriation or social media abuse for children of immigrant parents who have instilled a strong work ethic in their kids, and who are striving for academic, artistic, and or athletic excellence?

I don’t know if that data exists, but I bet these problems are far less common in those households versus where the children get their direction from their peers and from social media itself.

Basically, my model is that a lack of meaning, direction, and strong social ties causes depression, and that depression then opens the door to addictions such as drugs and social media.

So, sure, maybe let’s see if we can get some of this stuff out of circulation. But that won’t solve the problem. What will solve the problem is having a cohesive narrative for how kids should comport themselves. A path. A vision. A direction. A moral foundation. And examples of how one should live a good life.

This is what kids need. Hell, it’s what adults need.

And if they don’t get it, they’re going to fill that void with something that isn’t good.