That when a rat is a put in an antique cage all along with two water bottles, one normal and one drugged it gets addicted to the drugged water and eventually dies of malnutrition. The experiment was seen as a proof that drugs are uncontrollable and it laid the foundation for 40 years of drug policy with strict laws rehab centers that focused on withdrawal and a massive war on drugs making it clear that drugs are bad.
What most people don’t know is that in the same decade another scientist Professor Bruce Alexander thought it was obivious that lonely rats in boring cages would choose drugs over water so he put them in a rat park, a lush cage with friend and everything a rat could want while stil having free acess to drugs, surprisingly his rats chose not to use the drugs. The researcher even took the study one step further and had the rats use drugs for 57 days in the lonely cage untill they become heavily addicted and then placed them in the rat park astonishingly the rats gradually reduced their drug use until they stopped using them altogether and live the rest of their lives drug-free.
Experiments like these happen to humans all the time, one example is in hospitals where heavily injured patients are given medical form of heroin, this heroin much stronger than the heroin used in the street. Despite months of use, these medical users just stop when they go home to a life where they are surrounded by a loving family. The same drug used for the same length of time turn street users who alone and unhappy into desperate addicts. The rat park experiments did not show that chemical addictions don’t exist but it showed that they are not the only thing that matters in drug abuse, maybe a person’s access to a functioning social life and a lush cage are even more important than continuing the war on drugs mission of making drugs unavailable and penalizing the users.
What causes, say, heroin addiction? This is a really stupid question, right? Its obvious; we all know it; heroin causes heroin addiction. Heres how it works: if you use heroin for 20 days, by day 21,.
Your body would physically crave the drug ferociously because there are chemical hooks in the drug. Thats what addiction means. But theres a catch. Almost everything we think we know about addiction is wrong. If you, for example, break your hip, youll be taken to a hospital and youll be given loads of diamorphine for weeks or even months. Diamorphine is heroin. Its, in fact, much stronger heroin than any addict can get on the street because its not contaminated by all the stuff drug dealers dilute it with. There are people near you being given loads of deluxe heroin in s right now.
The experiment is simple: you take a rat and put it in a cage with two water bottles. One is just water, the other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.
But in the 1970s, bruce alexander, a professor of psychology, noticed something odd about this experiment: the rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So he built Rat Park, which is basically heaven for rats;.
Its a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls, tunnels to scamper down, plenty of friends to play with, and they could have loads of sex everything a rat about town could want. And they would have the drugged water and the normal water bottles. But heres the fascinating thing: in Rat Park, rats hardly ever use the drugged water none of them ever use it compulsively, none of them ever overdose.
But maybe this is a quirk of rats, right? Well, helpfully there was a human experiment along the same lines: The Vietnam War. 20% of American troops in Vietnam were using a lot of heroin. People back home were really panicked, because they thought there would be hundreds of thousands of junkies on the streets of the United States when the war was over. But a study followed the soldiers home and found something striking: They didn’t go to rehab, they didn’t even go into withdrawal. 95% of them just stopped after they got home. If you believe the old theory of addiction, that makes no sense. But if you believe Professor Alexander’s theory, it makes perfect sense. Because if you’re put into a horrific jungle in a foreign country where you don’t want to be, and you could be forced to kill or die at any moment, doing heroin is a great way to spend your time. But if you go back to your nice home with your friends and your family, it’s the equivalent of being taken out of that first cage and put into a human Rat Park.
It’s not the chemicals, it’s your cage. We need to think about addiction differently. Human beings have an innate need to bond and connect. When we are happy and healthy, we will bond with the people around us. But when we can’t because we’re traumatized, isolated, or beaten down by life, we will bond with something that gives us some sense of relief. It might be endlessly checking a smartphone, it might be pornography, video games, Reddit, gambling, or it might be cocaine. But we will bond with something because that is our human nature. The path out of unhealthy bonds is to form healthy bonds, to be connected to people you want to be present with. Addiction is just one symptom of the crisis of disconnection that’s happening all around us. We all feel it.
The War on Drugs we’ve been fighting for almost a century now has made everything worse. Instead of helping people heal and getting their life together, we have cast them out from society, we have made it harder for them to get jobs and become stable, we take benefits and support away from them if we catch them with drugs, we throw them in prison cells, which are literally cages, we put people who are not well in a situation which makes them feel worse and hate them for not recovering. For too long, we’ve talked only about individual recovery from addiction. But we need now to talk about social recovery. Because something has gone wrong with us as a group. We have to build a society that looks a lot more like Rat Park and a lot less like those isolated cages. We are going to have to change the unnatural way we live and rediscover each other. The opposite of addiction is not sobriety; the opposite of addiction is connection.