Drugs & Health Blog

Addiction and the Importance of Social Connections

Illustration by Dr. Marco Venniro, NIDA IRP

The NIDA Blog Team

Peer pressure can lead some people to make risky choices, like using drugs. But scientists are discovering that connecting with other people may also create a positive effect; it might even help some people who have problems with drugs.

In a recent animal study involving rats, for instance, many of the rats chose to hang out with other rats in their cages instead of pressing a lever to get more of a drug.

Does this mean that socializing could also help some people avoid using drugs?

Changing the brain

People who use drugs over time can develop a brain disease called addiction. Addiction changes the brain and can cause a person to seek out drugs even when the person understands that drug use is a bad choice. Someone with an addiction can also return to drug use after not using drugs for a while (this is called a relapse).

All this makes addiction hard to overcome. But the recent animal study suggests that positive social connections, like friendships and healthy family relationships, might undo some of the negative effects caused by drug use.

Socializing might help

Scientists aren’t sure yet how social interactions positively affect the human brain, but some of the most effective treatments for addiction already involve helping the person to create healthy social relationships that don’t involve drug use.

For people with substance use disorders, connecting in a meaningful way with other people—including others who are recovering from the same disorders—seems to help limit the urge to use drugs.

So even though rats’ social needs are different from humans’, this study adds to the evidence that having strong social connections with people who don’t use drugs can be an important part of treatment for addiction.

For people living with addiction, knowing that social connections might help them overcome the disease could bring a lot of hope.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.

Comments

Thank you very much for this very helpful material. It helped me with my health exam
I am very familiar with the rat comparison. I watched a video about how in one cage, the rats were forced to live a barren, boring and lonely life. They were given the option between regular water and water laced with a drug of some kind. Due to their horrid environment, the rats in this cage would always choose the water laced with the drugs. However, when they were put in a more inviting cage with other rats, food and entertainment, they instead chose to drink the regular water instead. I think this is a great demonstration of the importance of having a stable social surrounding. I think having caring friends and family around you is something that can make a world of a difference, especially someone who is leaning towards the use of drugs. This article is a great one, and it’s very “quick and to the point” for many teens who may read it. I think it’s very important for young adults, and really anyone, that keeping people you care about close to you can end up making a world of a difference. In some cases, it could even mean life or death. Hopefully, that doesn’t have to ever come to that. I am glad that this article is encouraging helping others who may need help with their addiction.

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