by Douglas L. Anderson, PsyD
A recent editorial noted that over 100,000 people died of drug overdoses in the United States between April 2020 and April 2021. What a tragedy. And it is a tragedy that is at least partially a result of the pandemic that has now resulted in over 800,000 deaths. Increased anxiety, fear, and isolation lead to a loss of connection, and people are making the unhealthy turn to opioids in particular for help. This has led to increased numbers of addicted individuals who thousands of times last year intentionally or unintentionally overdosed, resulting in their death.
What is it about opioids that draws people in? It works like this. We all have neurotransmitters that are responsible for making social connection feel comforting, and we know that opioids mimic those same neurotransmitters. When used, opioids help us control pain, but they also provide a false sense of social connectedness.
The editorial was addressing the public policy aspects of this issue, noting that “America can’t arrest its way out of a problem caused by the fundamental human need to connect.” There are certainly debates to be had about when to arrest and jail, and when to treat the underlying problem of addiction.
But I want to address the significance of what it means that human beings are relational beings with an innate need to connect with others. I sometimes say that we are born related and relating. We spend nine months inside our mother’s womb umbilically connected. And at birth we immediately seek connection, just as our mothers instinctively hold us close and nurture us in manifold ways.
Of course, sometimes that breaks down for various reasons, and as children we don’t always receive all that we need. We are dependent on parents or caregivers who may not be healthy enough to provide good nurture and healthy connection. This can lead to all sorts of problems in our lives - behavioral problems, relationship problems, and sometimes drug addiction problems.
Sometimes other things come along in life and disrupt our sense of connection to others, things like pandemics, racial conflicts, and cultural divisiveness. This, too, can lead to all sorts of problems in our lives and in the life of our families and communities.
I do hope the holidays create healthy opportunities for all of us to connect with those we love.
We are in a time where we need to very intentionally talk about connection and love. We need to find a way out from under the threat of difference and learn to appreciate what I call the ambiance of difference. Connection is a fundamental human need. We need each other.
If you are lacking in healthy connections, you can get some help at River Counseling Services and Sioux Falls Psychological Services. We meet you where you are, offering hope. You may schedule an appointment with the Platte office at 605-337-3444, or meet with one of our Sioux Falls Psychological Services therapists from your own computer or smartphone. To schedule an appointment please call 605-334-2696.