Missing Link

Thirty Year Old True Fact: The more milk an infant drinks, the less likely she is to be a heroin addict as an adult. Similarly, the less milk an infant drinks, the more likely she is to be addicted to heroin as an adult.
Admittedly, correlation does not imply causality. Just because two things go together doesn't mean that one of them is responsible for the other. Stated another way: a boy and a girl at the same dance did not necessarily arrived in the same car.
That said, the question remains: why is there an inverse relationship between a baby's  milk consumption and the likelihood that she will grow up to be addicted to heroin? Tough question, huh? Ask the person sitting next to you. Go ahead. I'll wait right here. Back already? Great. What did your friend say? Milk and heroin both contain sugar or similar substances? Did your friend suggest a chemical or physiological connection?
Or did your friend get it right? You would know if she did. Like so many correct answers, it's equally obvious and intuitive once pointed out. If your friend did explain what relates to both lack of milk as a child and a higher likelihood of heroin addiction as an adult, she's totally smart! Do you think you could ask her to write a few of these columns for me? You think it's easy sitting here every Monday night coming up with endearing questions for blog posts every Tuesday? Jeez.
But back to our regularly scheduled article. Before explaining the actual relationship between milk and heroin, let me ask a seemingly unrelated question: why is it that children who play video games are also more likely to be opioid addicts? Specifically, there is a positive correlation between the number of hours a child spends playing video games and the likelihood that he will be an opioid addict as an adult. For real. And there certainly isn't any milk in Grand Theft Auto. So there goes any possible relevance of a chemical connection.
With video games and opioid addiction, there are a number of plausible scenarios to explain the relationship. All involve one cause and two results. Maybe children with attentional issues end up as game players as well as drug addicts because there is some neuro-chemical that makes both games and drugs attractive. Maybe. Maybe parents of video game players and parents of opioid addicts did not have the time or inclination to connect with their children in ways we would recognize as human. (Blame the parents!) Maybe the children were hard to soothe from birth, could not calm down without games or drugs. (Blame the children!) Maybe the children had high risk behaviors from infancy that weren't addressed (Blame everybody!) Again, maybe.
Or maybe isolation causes both video game and opioid addiction. Kids who play video games by themselves are disconnected from contact with other actual humans. Gabor Mate, a doctor who worked with desperately ill addicts wrote one of my favorite books on the subject, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. "... [I]solation is in the very nature of addiction. Psychological isolation tips people into addiction in the first place, and addiction keep them isolated because it sets a higher value on their motivations and behaviors around the drug than on anything else--even human contact."
Even your smart friend couldn't state the relationship more concisely. And speaking of your clever colleague, here's the "answer" to the inverse relationship of 30 years ago between milk and heroin: both resulted from the same cause--poverty. Economically disadvantaged kids were less likely to have access to milk; poor kids were also at greater risk of becoming IV drug abusers.
Although as it turns out the opioid epidemic is becoming "an equal opportunity destroyer" targeting everyone across income classes. So maybe neither your smart friend nor this author knows exactly what causes what. Heroin used to be more common in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Not any more.
But the take away is still simple. Kids need to be connected to adults, not to machines. In terms of relating to adults, their parents would be a good place to start.

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