Hugs not Drugs


When we offer a hug to someone, their “drug” of choice will become less satisfying, gradually leading them to that which they were created for…

By Audrey Haridn, LPC

By Audrey Hardin, LPC

“Hugs not drugs”

 A catchy yet cheesy slogan that originated in the late 80s as an anti-drug campaign has found its way to the forefront of my mind.

I woke up Saturday morning, after an emotionally taxing week, feeling especially “needy.” I ended up reaching for my phone to find some form of connection via social platforms and after half an hour of scrolling, felt no better.

My tendency in my exhaustion was not towards finding real connection to meet my “needy-ness” but a way to escape it… to disconnect from the longing and mindlessly scroll until I had forgotten my needs altogether. But that didn’t work. Does it ever?

As I walked through Trader Joe’s, I saw a mom embrace her child in the nuts and chips aisle and it hit me –I needed a hug! I needed to physically feel accepted and loved by someone when I, myself, felt too needy to handle.

On my drive home I began to consider, why a hug could hold so much power? For starters, it seemed to be exactly what I needed as my “love tank” was running on empty.

After some research, I found that hugs are much more than a way to greet or say goodbye to a loved one, they are necessary for our survival.

The infamous family therapist Virginia Satir said: 

“We need four hugs a day to survive, eight hugs to keep us as we are and 12 hugs to grow”.

As babies, physical touch is necessary for healthy brain development. As toddlers, touch reminds us who we belong to. As adolescents, it tells us that we are safe and accepted -even when we disobey. As pre-teens and teens, touch from a parent or loved one empowers us to explore our identity as an individual. 

As adults, sadly, we shift our focus to productivity and advancement and ignore the truth that we never stop needing physical touch –a hug, a hand-hold, or an arm around our shoulder.  

For many of us, we live as though the only way we can get these “touch-needs” met in our stage of life is through sexual intimacy.

In her book Touch, Tiffany Field, the Director of the Touch Research institute at the University of Miami shared:

…a lack of healthy touch among students and adults is causing real problems. It could explain “why sexual promiscuity and teenage pregnancy are on the increase.” She also argues that in cultures with a lot of physical touch, especially among infants and children, adult physical aggression is low.  

Why we need touch:

Well, apart from significantly lowering cortisol levels (stress hormones) and boosting our immune systems, hugs fill up our tanks when they’re empty…literally. When you are hugged for at least 7 seconds, the body releases dopamine, endorphins and serotonin into our system.  

So, considering all that’s draining our tanks –achievements, to-do lists, social media, and other responsibilities, we need to make sure we are refueling by treating our bodies with compassion and appreciation.

How powerful to think that during Jesus’ ministry he used touch as a primary means to heal the sick, to be an agent of humility and love through the washing of feet. Paul’s ministry also boasts of laying of hands, embracing one another; and later, we see early Christians greeting one another with kisses.

Our bodies were wired for physical connection –but due to culture shifts throughout the years, we see it’s become something we reserve for “special occasions” or sex.

No wonder we are experiencing increased levels of depression, loneliness, anxiety, stress, and lack of social cohesion.

This needs to change.

My own experience this morning, walking the aisles of Trader Joe’s with an empty tank reminds me how often I neglect this basic human need –a need that when met, reminds me that I am accepted, loved, and enough because of Jesus.

All that from a hug? YES.

When we offer a hug to someone, their “drug” or escape of choice will become less satisfying, gradually leading them to that which they were created for.

As Rob Moll, Editor at Large of Christianity Today, writes,

“Each time we reach out and touch someone, we communicate the tangible truth of the gospel—that God in Christ reaches out to each of us, drawing us into intimate relationship with Him and those around us.”

 Go hug someone today!