5 Must See Ted Talks on Addiction

Addiction is one of the biggest challenges facing both normal people and the government in our country. When you consider that nearly one in three people know someone addicted to drugs of some description, it magnifies the scale of the problem. However, there is hope to be found in the darkness.

People are becoming more open to discussing and solving the problem of addiction and this will make strides towards a better, safer future for everyone. Here, we look at five Ted Talks on Addiction, which can help us better understand and tackle this issue.

Table of Contents

Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong – Johann Hari

Johann Hari is a journalist who has traveled over 30,000 miles exploring drugs and addiction. He presents to the audience early on in his speech that many of us have actually been given pure heroin if we’ve undergone a serious operation. Do we all come out as junkies? No. This confronts the idea that people will get addicted to heroin just from taking a lot of it.

Why don’t many people get addicted to drugs? According to Hari, and research, he has studied, it’s because of our human bonds. We want to stay well for the connections in our lives, for the human bond.

He discusses how the war on drugs across the globe has criminalized addicts. People are made to feel alone, ashamed, unwanted, dirty, criminal. Then he discusses Portugal, who decriminalized drugs in 2000 and has seen enormous success in helping people get back to working and being part of their communities.

People need to be loved, to feel cared for, to know they’re not alone. This is the key to helping addicts – not sending them away or arresting them. Hari firmly believes we need to change how we act and feel towards addicts, across the board. This will help change the story.

The Critical Role Librarians Play in the Opioid Crisis – Chera Kowalski

Chera Kowalski is a librarian at the McPherson Library in Philadelphia, located in a low-income area with very little opportunity historically. She chose to work here – she knows the area and its endemic problems. She knew it was center to the city’s drug trade and drug use. She didn’t become a librarian to save lives.

However, she points out that public libraries are places that are all about community support. People come into the library all day long, seeking shelter, resources, a place of repose, or to do their homework.

McPherson Library is in a park, and the staff had to face an even bigger problem as the opioid epidemic grew. People came to buy drugs in the park and use them around the library.

 Not only is Chera used to seeing people in various stages of opioid intoxication, but all the kids and teens who visit the library are too. The public toilet in the library even got blocked by discarded needles.

There have been overdoses inside and outside the library. All of this is reminiscent of Chera’s childhood. Her parents were heroin addicts. She constantly feared they would die. She has learned to use NARCAN and has saved lives with it. She knows the kids that see this think it is normal, but it shouldn’t be.

Her point is that the opioid epidemic isn’t just about users and their families – it affects the entire community that surrounds it. The reach of the epidemic impacts the entire community.

Addiction is a Disease. We Should Treat it Like One – Michael Botticelli

Director of Drug Policy for Barack Obama, Michael Botticelli was honest about his recovery, but there were still people who thought that it would affect his chances of getting that job, despite the fact he had been in recovery for 20 years. Michael is an alcoholic.

He’s also gay. He has seen how people fought to be heard, especially regarding the AIDS and HIV epidemic. He remembers when people blamed those with AIDS for being sick and wanted to separate them from others. He has seen how that has changed. The disease of AIDS may be eradicated in our lifetime.

Now he sees the disease of addiction. People are rude, derisive, speak with scorn about those with addiction. There’s a stigma like there once was with LGBT. Addicts are people too, they have faces and families, people that love them.

He discusses how someone with cancer will be treated; someone who has a heart attack will be rushed to the hospital. They have a disease, so do alcoholics and drug addicts. Decades of research has proven that addiction is a chronic medical condition.

The Affordable Care Act has changed things, but people need to change their views about addiction. He speaks about his own addiction because people are more than a disease. They need help, kindness, and compassion so that they can get help earlier and when they need it.

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In the Opioid Crisis, Here’s What it Takes to Save a Life – Jan Rader

Jan Rader is a firefighter and qualified nurse who lives and works in Huntington, West Virginia. She’s used to saving lives from burning buildings, fire accidents, and national disasters. When the opioid epidemic hit, suddenly she was trying to save more lives from drugs. In 2017, her community saw 831 overdoses and 183 deaths from overdose.

She asks people to think about what it’s like to have an addiction – to feel fragile and ashamed. Then imagine you overdose, someone calls 911 and you wake up to five or six strangers who have just plunged you into withdrawal by using naloxone. 

You’re not grateful they saved your life – you’re defensive, angry. Then consider being the first responder who has just saved your life and how they feel, even though they may have actually saved you from overdose before. It creates a bad dynamic.

This community has changed the way they treat the opioid epidemic, from installing a Quick Response Team, a freestanding clinic devoted to opioid users and self-care for the firefighters. It has resulted in 50% fewer overdoses and 50% fewer deaths.

As she says, it takes a lot of people to save a life, not just once, but over and over. It takes a community effort and a change of approach. She hopes her community can show how to move forward – just listen and be kind.

How Isolation Fuels Opioid Addiction – Rachel Wurzman

What does it mean to be normal and what does it mean to be sick? Rachel Wurzman explores this question on a neurological level. She opens with how she suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome and even people who don’t have it can imagine it because your brain can give you similar experiences. Tourette’s Syndrome gives her involuntary tics, she calls them unvoluntary.

Then she asks where do we put opioid abuse on the spectrum of unvoluntary behavior? We already know that something about the way addiction is treated isn’t really working.

She talks about the brain’s autopilot, which is controlled by the striatum. It knows to trigger whatever behavior you have done most when confronted with the same conditions. We don’t choose to do things, we do what we have become programmed to.

The striatum has been closely connected with loneliness. Also, we have naturally occurring opioids in our brain and opioid-receptors. These react to pleasure. Loneliness makes our brain-hungry so that anything will satisfy it, even if that is opioids. People are becoming addicted more easily because they are lonely. People without good social connections are relapsing more.

We need deep emotional connections to keep the striatum healthy. Humans need to remember that they are human and build social connections, not online but in person. Wurzman believes, and her research backs it up, that we can heal ourselves and the others around us through proper connection.


Watching educational videos on addiction is vital for everyone in the community. Those who think they aren’t touched by addiction should keep an open mind. These Ted Talks on addiction show that society has a huge part to play in healing the opioid crisis. When people come together, keep learning and banish the stigma around addiction, then the numbers change for the better.

If you know someone who is suffering from addiction, listen, learn and help as much as you can. Reach out and contact us for professional help today.






Our writers are experienced in everything related to addiction, mental health, rehab and recovery.

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