Is social isolation the new gateway drug?



At Lifewise, we see every day the isolation that many people struggling with severe alcohol and drug addictions have in common. Could building more caring communities help prevent people from falling down the addiction rabbit-hole in the first place?

For decades, the traditional idea of addiction has been that when drugs are on offer, some people will inevitably get addicted. This assumption is largely based on findings from animal research that when placed in cages with access to drugs, most lab animals become heavy users – and it often ends up killing them.

But when you put animals in cages where they have companions and things to do, you get a very different result. When animals can learn and socialise with others, drugs lose their allure.

Lab animals’ tendency to get hooked on drugs when bored or lonely has some pretty clear parallels with humans. At Lifewise, we see every day the social isolation that many people struggling with severe alcohol and drug addictions have in common. Most people have lost vital connections with friends, whanau and their local community. So when things go wrong, people simply have no one to call on. When people have grown up being shuttled in and out of the foster care system, don’t have a job to go to, or are homeless with no fixed abode – is it really a surprise that some turn to alcohol and drugs to take the edge off?

Lifewise delivers practical solutions for social problems – like helping people recover from addiction, and getting homeless people into homes. But to really get to the root of social issues, we have to look at the wider community.

How can we make NZ a place where people look out for one another? Because isolation isn’t just something that affects those living in poverty – it touches most Kiwis’ lives these days.

Most of us are so tired and worn out from long hours at work that even getting enough time to spend time with our families is difficult. Instead of smiling and saying hello to people on the street, we play on our phones. And why would we need to know who the people next door are when we have 24/7 access to ‘friends’ on social media?

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But the reality is that humans are social beings – we need to be connected with the people we share our space with to thrive. And the good news is that unlike lab animals, we have the power to change our environment.

A simple way to make connections with people is to start where you live. Whether you live in a suburb, on a city block, in an apartment or on a rural property, you all have neighbours – and knowing your neighbours matters. These days, only one third of Kiwis feel connected to their neighbours, but 80% of us want to get to know our neighbours better.

The trouble is, most people have no idea where to start. That’s a big reason why Lifewise started Neighbours Day Aotearoa, NZ’s biggest celebration of neighbourliness. Neighbours Day is a way Kiwis can break the ice and get to know the people they share a community with. Next weekend, thousands of neighbours, organisations, local government and businesses will be coming together to turn their streets into neighbourhoods.

By encouraging connections in neighbourhoods and encouraging more ‘neighbourliness’, we’ll be one step closer to strong, resilient communities.

Knowing who your neighbours are won’t solve all of society’s ills – but simply saying ‘hello’ and starting a conversation with the people you share space with is a simple step you can take to make your patch in NZ a little bit less isolated, and a little bit more neighbourly.

How can we make NZ a place where people look out for each other? We want to hear your ideas – follow Lifewise on Facebook.

By Moira Lawler, Lifewise General Manager



  1. People do not quite understand that modern media manipulation and advertising is targeted to undermine human thinking and feeling and thus undermine any social cohesion, and rather guide people into falling for and following fads and so.

    The society we have has never been more manipulated than ever before, it is more perfected as Goebbels and Nazis ever anticipated. The perfection of the game means, most do not even notice they are brainwashed to death. You are ALL brainwashed, dear friends.


  2. 1000% Mike in Auckland when you said;

    “it is more perfected as Goebbels and Nazis ever anticipated”

    National Joyce/Key have taken the Goebbels social engineering systematic control and used the modern digital media circuit and the corrupted MSM and perfected it.

    Wasn’t it National who were always decrying Aunty Helen Clark’s Forth Labour Government 1999 to 2008 severely for her style of social engineering?

    Guess it was to soft for these resurrected Copycat Goebbels NatZ Political criminals.

    We are hoping for a Winston election win here, once again as in 1996 to steady the march of NatZ style dictatorship.

  3. This is indeed a very interesting, good and revealing post! I have observed the same, isolation is widespread now, it is also often the result of poorly chosen lifestyles, and the individualisation and consumerism that now abounds has resulted in various forms of isolation.

    People get inundated with messages from early years on, kids are the first target of the advertising industry and of businesses that want people to consume junk food and whatever else there is. It is no coincidence that McDonalds created the Ronald McDonald figure and established playgrounds or corners in their fast food restaurants.

    The Nazis and Hitler learned from the US advertising industry how to effectively seduce and tie in people for a cause, their cause was political manipulation, to brain wash people, first of all the youth, to fall for their cause.

    The advertisers target kids for selling toys, ice cream, chocolate, junk food and brand clothing. As a result parents get black mailed or constantly harassed by kids to buy them stuff that other kids also have, to buy them junk food and so for quick fixes.

    We now have generations of people that grew up with massive advertising using far reaching, highly sophisticated, effective media, to form the thinking, feeling and behaviour of people.

    People have not learned to live without this constant conditioning, and hence they mostly follow the trend, to become consumerist minded, individualised persons, thinking this is “normal”, and using drugs like alcohol, even using food for quick fixes to “feel good”, is widespread.

    The sum of all this expresses itself in the modern kind of herd behaviour, now even influencing elections, as we have seen, and people seem to believe polls are the truth, while they ignore many not participating, and as self perpetuating manipulation acts like self fulfilling prophecy, people in too large numbers consider a Prime Minister who constantly lies or twists facts as being “trustworthy”.

    Corporates that have fed their incessant messages about how great they and their products or services are now get given more trust than governments, and people rely on them, even allow new social media providers to gather endless data on their behaviour online, their preferences and so forth, so they can be even more manipulated and controlled.

    I have had flatmates bringing their own tea-towels, cups, glasses, cutlery and so forth, some even their own toilet paper, while I offer it all for use at no cost, but this is the modern day individualism, many people do not know anymore to share, they do not even want to share, and that is the result of brainwashing, conditioning, of individualisation, consumerism, selfishness and competition, all “values” so much promoted with neoliberalism.

    If we want a better, functioning society, we must act, change ourselves and change society, all else, no matter how many well meant words will mean nothing and lead to nothing without resolute action, also including the destruction of the forces that are behind of our new “modern” social isolation.

    Those that are isolated due to poverty and illness or so, they will have an unmanageable challenge to face, if society continues the way it is.

  4. I would agree . Since I’ve been here , in my house miles away from my friends and whanau , thank you fucking earthquakes , I’ve taken to the drink . Interestingly , I like it . Sad perhaps but true .

    It helps me write angry missives about idiots running scared from themselves . Of which , perhaps , I am one .

    Life , is far too important to take seriously . It’s better to drive home pissed from being wrapped in the arms of friends while singing an aria than to cringe in fear of some petty authority from behind ones Harvey Norman curtains .

    Take a close look at us ? See ? We’re temporary creatures . Not meant for being long here . So let rip with a good heart I say . The secret , is to have a good heart . It’ll hold you in good stead for your yet to be explored Universes to come . Mark my words ; – )

  5. Booze is the poor man’s prozac.

    However…the level of selfishness and entitlement that’s crept into so many people is making the ability to feel happy in one’s neighborhood much harder. Even when you make the effort to be friendly. This weekend almost everyone we met had had neighbour problems from trivial to going – a bit pissed off – for music at 3am to be grabbed by the throat, dragged onto the property, wacked against a fence and then – after refusing to lay assault charges, being told that the neighbours were going to press tresspass charges! Maybe a “Don’t be selfish -you’r part of a community” campaign might help but I just think we’re in selfish times. If you want community – join a club.

    • Welcome to Fucking John Key’s wicked dark world he has made NZ into.

      He is a liar, a traitor, a Carpetbagger, and a Judas Priest.

      His day of reckoning will come mark my words.

  6. I agree when you are dealing with addiction drug/alcohol (it takes a village) but, if this person does not want help, continues to lie/steal and has a one track mind *to get home, back to New Zealand* what does one do? When this 21 child, has decided being homeless, sleeping in bathroom stales, and in back alleys is more important than staying in rehab, getting a job ( of any kind), but all that is keeping him going is the thought of one day, being on a plane back to New Zealand, reconnecting with his biological father Ian Wishart. This child Daniel, has addiction issues and in his mind the USA/his California family has failed him, he thinks life back in NZ will be better and more options to get help, all he needs is the one opportunity for a plane ticket, ‘back home”. When one parent does except one of his children what does that do to that child? you can answer that question, when you look into the blue eyes of that homeless will see sadness,and wondering “im not good enough for you to know”

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