How Rats Showed Us the True Cause of Drug Addiction
Drug addiction is something thousands of people suffer throughout the world, but not for the reasons we’ve always been told.
Most of us assume we understand the root cause of drug addiction; they have powerful chemicals that the body adapts to and becomes dependent on after continued use, right? It seems to make sense, and while the statement itself is true, it does not tell us everything about drug addiction. One of the world’s most despised creatures, the humble rat, showed us how psychology and a sense of well-being plays a major role drug addiction.
The popular assumption that drug addiction is simply the result of addictive chemicals comes from an experiment done in the 1970’s. In this study, rats were put in bare cages with two water bottles, one with normal water and the other drugged. The rats would invariably gravitate towards drinking the drugged water, become addicted and eventually died from malnutrition. This was taken as proof that drug addiction is unavoidable if they’re consumed, paving the way for the war on drugs to ensue.
However, at around the same time, professor Bruce Alexander thought the study flawed. He argued that without stimulation and a comforting setting, it was obvious that the rats would become addicted to the drugged water. To prove his point, he conducted an experiment wherein he introduced drug addicted rats to a large cage with plenty of other rats, plenty of stimulating items, clean food and water as well as access to the same drugged water. In this more natural setting, the rats began using less and less of the drugged water until they eventually stopped using it altogether despite it being freely available. We witness this happening even in the human world when heavily injured patients are given powerful painkillers. Despite the fact that the drugs used in these cases are often more potent versions of commonly used street drugs, patients normally have no problem coming off of them after returning home to the comfort of their own home and surrounding themselves with loved ones.
This illustrates just how powerful social behavior is and how our connections with other people have profound effects on our bodies. Drug addiction is a very real problem, but we need to understand that the solution is not to simply wage a war on drugs, but to empathize and help confront the psychological issues that give rise to addiction.