A geographic cure is when someone in active addiction looks around at the wreckage of their lives and figures out that everything would be better if they pulled up stakes and lit off to a fresh start somewhere else. According to recovery wisdom, this doesn’t work, because it is predicated on the assumption that we will be leaving the problem behind. Further, because to believe that we’ll leave the problem behind is a denial of the repeated evidence that the problem is within us, the person trying a geographic cure is crazy.
I’m not here to tell you that a geographic cure works. It doesn’t work for addiction. But, I am here to explain why it isn’t as crazy as it sounds, and why it makes perfect sense to the person trying it.
Anyone who has been reading this blog or has read QAA will remember that lowered reward center dopamine tone is one of the manifestations of the human famine signal. Specifically, dopamine tone going down over time as a result of continued using is a pretty good proxy for food running out. That’s especially true when the brain gets other signals that caloric intake is low because we actually have been eating less because of active drug use. So what is the rational thing to do in a famine? Well, for us it might be to go to the grocery, but for our ancestors, that wasn’t possible.
We are a nomadic species, or we have been for most of our history. Our brains being hard wired to assume that the problem is the environment, and to move to a new spot during a famine, isn’t such a bad survival mechanism. Sure it doesn’t make sense if you have some control over your environment, but our species has only had that ability for around 10,000 years, and to the degree we take for granted today, only for a few generations. If our ancestors had helicopters or satellites we might have evolved differently, but for 99.9% of our history, the only way to see over the horizon was to walk there.
It makes perfect sense to the brain with addiction that if you’ve used up the resources in this area the best thing to do is to move somewhere else. There’s a reason most humans think the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. It isn’t a thought from our cortex; it’s a drive from our midbrain, “This place doesn’t have enough sources of dopamine tone – GET OUT!”
So next time you run into someone thinking about a geographic cure, remember that it makes perfect sense to them and their midbrain. And when you offer them a ride in your metaphorical helicopter to show them that what’s over the horizon isn’t any different, remember to explain with compassion that they’ll likely just see new green fields. The key isn’t just getting a better view, but in seeing that our wreckage had once been just as green. So perhaps we need a metaphorical time machine rather than a helicopter.