I recently spent 10 days in California visiting family and I was very thankful to come home to Kodiak, because I realized that the community here is very different than any other place I have lived. I have noticed that the population is very small and close-knit. I have deeper friendships with people even though I have known them for less time. I was pleasantly surprised when my Kodiak friend bought me flowers and filled my fridge with perishables that we needed as a welcome home present.

Community is essential to human life. Humans need interaction with other humans, as evidenced by the dramatically negative effects of solitary confinement: hallucinations, uncontrolled rage, paranoia, and hypersensitivity to noise or touch. Being socially isolated can be detrimental to human health, significantly increasing the risk of illness and even death. Many animal and human studies have shown various negative health effects of social isolation, and positive health effects of social interaction.

The importance of community is now being studied as it relates to substance abuse and addiction. Addiction is defined as a disorder of the brain where there is a chronic and compulsive need to take a substance, usually with increasing frequency and dosage, even when negative consequences exist. Substance use disorder affects about 8 percent of the population of adults at any given time. Especially concerning is the rising rate of substance use among adolescents. 41 percent of seniors in high school reported that they had been drunk in the past year, and 35 percent reported that they had used marijuana in a 2014 survey, with daily marijuana use reported at about 6 percent.

Studies of rats are insightful to illuminate the possible causes and trends of addiction. Adolescent rats which are socially isolated have higher lifelong addiction rates. Rats living in community with other rats were far less likely to develop addiction to heroin or cocaine even if the drugs were readily available. Isolated rats which developed an addiction to drugs were able to stop using drugs after they were transferred to a cage with other rats.

Kodiak is blessed with a wonderful community of people. It is my hope that we can use this strength to continue to help people find freedom from the slavery of addiction. Young people are especially sensitive to isolation, and we can make special efforts to reach out to them. Some of the resources in our community are: KAMP (Kodiak Area Mentor Program), the Providence Counseling Center, Celebrate Recovery, the Brother Francis Shelter, the Salvation Army, KANA, and other organizations and churches.

We can be thankful for our relationships and appreciate the efforts that others have made to encourage us and motivate us to excel. Truly, our friends and family may have saved our lives by loving us and keeping us on the right track. It takes courage and humility to pursue relationships with others, especially those whom we perceive as different from ourselves. Let our gratitude motivate us to be a community of people who are eager to help others, even if it is inconvenient or painful. Reaching out can be as simple as making eye contact and smiling at someone.

It is essential to remember that all of us have made mistakes in our lifetime, and second chances can be lifesaving. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

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