Fifteen years ago, two Colombian engineering students at Dartmouth College set out to prove, through systems optimization, that cocaine should be legalized. I was one of them. Why? Because in our course we were learning about designing systems to achieve goals.

We asked ourselves the basic question: What is the goal of society in reference to drugs? In other words, why are drugs illegal? I’ve asked these questions to hundreds of people since. “Because they are bad for you,” they say. But that’s not the American government’s answer. It clearly states its goal is to stop people from doing drugs. But does the system achieve that goal?

Our conclusion: NOT AT ALL! Drug use has skyrocketed since the war on drugs has begun. As have crime rates and incarceration rates. The same thing happened when alcohol was made illegal in the US. And you know what happened when alcohol was legalized? Murder rates plummeted by 50%. In other words, life was safer in America once alcohol was legalized again. And alcoholics began to get treatment through therapy and AA, rather than have to hide their addiction behind closed doors, where they cause the most damage.

And the thing is, whether illegal or not, most of us have some sort of addiction. Mine is my mobile phone. I’m lucky, because it’s a socially acceptable addiction. Or perhaps unlucky, because there’s no social stigma to motivate me to assess what inner turmoil is causing me to check Facebook or make more phone calls than necessary.

And Johann Hari agrees. He points out that the supported, happy, and well adjusted individual avoids drugs not because they’re illegal, but because they’re unattractive. He gets that if our goal is to eradicate addiction, we need to set up societal structures to support and include those who are suffering, rather than create systems that make them feel unworthy, isolated, and diminished.

The opposite of addiction is not sobriety

The opposite of addiction is connection

Watch his TED Talk and then go out and hug someone. Or better yet, go on a walk with a friend. Then you’ll get exercise, fresh air, and build bonds that will foster your emotional and spiritual well being.

With blessings for many joys,

Chana

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