24/7 Help (661) 630-4176

Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days on the Wars on Drugs – An Author’s Nebulous Theory on the Cause of Addiction

heroin and painkiller rehab


What if the answer to substance addiction was building healthy attachments and being in a loving family environment?  What if the types of “cages” (or houses) that people live in can trigger or hinder substance addiction?

According to Johann Hari, author of Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days on the Wars on Drugs, dysfunctional family environments, and alienation from other human beings cause substance addiction.

In a Huffington Post article, Hari compares two groups of clients who are treated with opiates at a hospital. After discharge, some patients become addicted, and end up on the streets trying to get a fix, while others return home, and stop taking drugs. According to Hari, both groups received opiates for the same length of time. He believes that the patients with loving families do not become addicts, while those who live lonely lives, or who reside with dysfunctional relatives turn to drugs.

It appears that the author has no factual evidence to back up his claim about the clients receiving opiates. And his concluding statement, “The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety. It’s connection” is confusing at best.

The bottom line is that the field of addiction science has already proven certain truths about substance abuse.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, addiction is a chronic disease, which is defined by drug seeking and use that is difficult to control. Factors that contribute to the manifestation of a substance abuse disorder include biology (or genetics), and environment. While Hari argues that a loving family environment is the key to a person not becoming an addict, the reality is that the environment is not limited to family members. Human beings do not live in a bubble. Influences from the outside world, including peer pressure, social media and economic status, are risk factors.

Another dynamic that influences substance addiction is growth. Drugs and/or alcohol alter the areas in the brain that control cognitive abilities. For teens, that’s a real concern because their brains are still in development. By trying drugs at a young age, there is a probability that they could acquire a substance abuse disorder.

According to the New York Times review of Chasing the Scream, Hari, who is British, once wrote columns for The Atlantic, The Independent and The Huffington Post. His career as a political writer bloomed until 2011, when he was caught for plagiarism and for creating quotes.  After a period of silence, he resurfaced with Chasing the Scream. The first half of the book profiles three Americans, including singer Billie Holiday. Hari viewed these individuals as prototypes for his message regarding the war on drugs. While the review says that the first part of the book shows empathy on the part of the author, the second half of the book shows Hari’s unsuccessful attempts at classifying the causes of substance addiction, as well as his failed effort at discussing effective treatment options.

His main sources are three scientists including Gabor Mate, a Hungarian-born Canadian physician who believed that the roots of substance addiction stemmed from childhood trauma. This correlation had already been established in the field of addiction way before Mate’s declaration.

Another source is the Canadian psychologist Bruce Alexander and his Rat Park. Back in the seventies, Alexander studied an experiment that was used to illustrate substance addiction. The trial consisted of putting two rats in separate cages, which were both empty except for bottles of water. One rat’s bottle contained heroin-infused water, while the other rat drank plain water. Naturally, the rat with the heroin water died.  Alexander felt that the rat cage experiment was a bad example of illustrating substance addiction. So he created the Rat Park. This recreational area included rats, toys, food, and two bottles of water, one plain, the other one mixed with heroin. The rats sampled the bottle of water with heroin, found it distasteful, and moved on to the healthier option. These rats never became rodent junkies. Not only were they happy and content, but also they created a fellowship.

In the book, Hari writes, “It isn’t the drug that causes the harmful behavior—it’s the environment. An isolated rat will almost always become a junkie. A rat with a good life almost never will, no matter how many drugs you make available to him. As Bruce put it: he was realizing that addiction isn’t a disease. Addiction is an adaptation. It’s not you—it’s the cage you live in.” 

Besides Alexander and Mates, Hari’s study includes the principles of psychiatrist John Mark, who believed in administering prescription narcotics to addicts.  The bottom line is that Hari’s theory is more of an opinion based on the research of three questionable sources.

When it comes to learning about substance addiction, as well as obtaining comprehensive treatment, its best to consult professionals in the field.  Not only are comparing rats to human beings ludicrous, but also the statement lacks compassion and insight.

Addiction is not an adaptation.

Addiction is a disease.

At Cycles of Change Recovery Services, we offer comprehensive evidence-based treatment for substance abuse and co-occurring disorders, along with 12-step facilitation. If you are an addict, or the relative of a loved one who struggles with substance addiction, please do not hesitate to call us.  Our drug rehab is comprised of specially trained professionals who will provide individualized treatment plans for you or your loved one. Many of us have been there ourselves, and we are passionate about helping you or your loved one heal from the bondage of addiction, and learn how to live a life in recovery.

We look forward to hearing from you.


Hari, Johann. “The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think.” Huffington Post. 20 Jan. 2015.

Mnookin, Seth. ‘Chasing the Scream’, by Johann Hari. The New York Times Book Review. 13 Feb. 2015.
Monbiot, George. “The Age of Loneliness is Killing Us.” The Guardian. 14 October 2014.

“Understanding Drug Addiction.” National Institute of Drug Abuse. 2016 August.


Not sure if our treatment program is right for you or your loved one?

We have counselors standing by to answer any questions you have 24/7.
Call Now (661) 630-4176