Do drugs equal addiction? Is that the only cause? That’s what I’ve always been taught in school. Now that I’m older and have more life experience, I see that drug addiction is more multifaceted than the what anti-drug PSA’s tell us. Watching the Kurzgesgat video on addiction has solidified my view.
In the Kurzgesgat video, I learned about the Rat Park experiments, a study in drug addiction conducted in the late 1970’s by Bruce K.. Alexander and his peers at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada.
Alexander hypothesized that addiction was not caused by drugs themselves, but by the environment.
He and his colleagues tested out the hypotheses by building “Rat Park,” a large, lush enclosure where rats were able to socialize, mate, fight, and play. The enclosure had walls painted with woodland scenery, fragrant ceder blocks for the rats to nest, and scattered boxes and cans for the rats to play. Next to “Rat Park,” they built mesh cages to test the effect isolation had on addiction.
In the experiment, the researchers randomly placed 16 rats in Rat Park and 16 rats in the isolated mesh cages. Each group had two bottles: one was tap water and the other was morphine with sweetened water.
Their results were that the rats living in the isolated mesh cages drank the morphine earlier than the rats living in Rat Park.
Furthermore, the researchers conducted other experiments focused on drug dependency. In these experiments, most days rats were given drugged morphine water while on their “choice” days, they could choose between tap water and the drugged morphine water. The rats living in isolation increased their morphine intake on “choice” days while the rats living in Rat Park decreased their morphine use despite their withdrawal symptoms. Here is a comic that fully addresses the extent of the experiment.
It’s easy to brush off the experiment and say, “It’s a weird genetic quirk that rats have.” Well, as these experiments were happening, a human equivalent happened.
The Vietnam War
According to Time magazine, heroin was “as common as chewing gum” among U.S. Soldiers, and evidence to back this up is a study found in the Archives of General Psychiatry. The study stated that 20 percent of U.S. Soldiers self-identified being addicted to heroin. As a result, the enlisted men addicted to heroin were kept in Vietnam until they dried out. When they returned back to the U.S., 95 percent of the addicted soldiers did not become re-addicted.
Could it simply be because they were taken out of a violent environment and back into a more peaceful one? Could it be that only 20 percent only self identified as addicts and the 80 percent were in denial?
Another human comparison is when people take diamorphine in the hospital for pain relief.
“What is diamorphine?” you asked?
Dimorphine is the medical term for heroin and is more potent and purer than what is found in the streets.
So if we use the theory that drugs cause addiction, people who are on diamorphine for long periods, after they leave the hospital, they will go onto the streets and try to buy smack. Right?
The interesting part is that never really happens. Canadian Dr. Gabor Mate, a renowned speaker and best-selling author of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, medical users just stop despite months of use. The same drug, used for the same length of time, causes street users into desperate addicts, something that doesn’t affect medical users. Could it be that medical users usually have a circle of social support and street users usually don’t?
My concern is I don’t think environment is the only factor that plays into addiction, like drugs are the only factor.
I do agree that we have to be compassionate towards individuals going through addiction and support them in their need of help. My concern is I don’t think the environment is the only factor that plays into addiction like drugs are the only factor.I believe it’s a combination of the drugs, genetics, personality, economics, and the list goes on.
At least, by introducing students the immense impact that environment has on drug addiction, instead of only providing the old drugs equals addiction model, students are able to see that addiction is dimensional.
I wish there was a more nuanced view on drugs and addiction in schools, but I can see where the nuanced view can be confusing for students who struggle with critical thinking. At least, by introducing students the immense impact that environment has on drug addiction, instead of only providing the old drugs equals addiction model, students are able to see that addiction is dimensional.