To make a long story short, a scientist by the name of Bruce K. Alexander decided to look deeper into the causes of drug addiction. He wanted to confront head-on the experiments that showed how rats in a cage would feed themselves opiates until they died, based on his theory that social conditions (and genetics) are really the primary factor in drug addiction. And so the Rat Park experiment was born.
To test his hypothesis, Alexander built Rat Park, an 8.8 m2 (95 sq ft) housing colony, 200 times the square footage of a standard laboratory cage. There were 16–20 rats of both sexes in residence, an abundance of food, balls and wheels for play, and enough space for mating and raising litters. The results of the experiment appeared to support his hypothesis. Rats who had been forced to consume morphine hydrochloride for 57 consecutive days were brought to Rat Park and given a choice between plain tap water and water laced with morphine. For the most part, they chose the plain water. “Nothing that we tried,” Alexander wrote, “… produced anything that looked like addiction in rats that were housed in a reasonably normal environment.” Control groups of rats isolated in small cages consumed much more morphine in this and several subsequent experiments. source:wikipedia
Unbelievable. Yes, the experiment has seen criticism, but the underlying results have refused to disappear into obscurity and are still cited today. Here are some more shocking results from the Wikipedia article. They added sweetener to the morphine to ‘seduce’ the rats into drinking it, but the rats that were living in the stimulating, comfortable, and socially balanced Rat Park still resisted it.
The caged rats (Groups CC and PC) took to the morphine instantly, even with relatively little sweetener, with the caged males drinking 19 times more morphine than the Rat Park males in one of the experimental conditions. But no matter how sweet the morphine became, the rats in Rat Park resisted it. They would try it occasionally — with the females trying it more often than the males — but invariably they showed a preference for the plain water. It was, writes Alexander, “a statistically significant finding.”
On the other hand, are these results really that remarkable? After reading through the experiment several times and also through Garry’s article, it seems odd to me that we would need experiments to prove that having a balanced and stimulating environment reduces the need to fill your body with something that distorts reality and is destructive to your health.
The major point of the experiment though was to focus on changing our preconceived notions of addiction as resulting from the addictive nature of drugs themselves. Does this completely debunk the idea that opiates are addictive? To a certain extent, I would say, yes. These experiments show that our environments contribute much more to addiction than most of us realize, and even contribute to our ability to safely stop taking a drug.
Let’s take a hard look at our own lives. It is all the more difficult to let go of any type of drugs when life is unbalanced, dull, unsatisfying, and depressing due to lack of fulfillment or personal actualization. Would we become dependent on drugs if we lived a lifestyle that genuinely felt healthy, balanced, stimulated, and fulfilled…?