The Secret of Addiction, it’s not just the Dope…


Hamzah Alameen

Addiction is not just a chemical problem but also a response to social integration problems. This explains why some people can use substances and not abuse them while others can not.The Rat Park studies of Dr. Bruce Alexander effectively illustrates where we went wrong…

Most addicts and addiction professionals believe that opiates are irresistibly addictive because the chemical has the power to keep you hooked almost magically and kill you. Studies conducted in the 1950’s usually involved a lab rat in a Skinner box (controlled environment)that ingests so much dope it eventually kills itself.

Rat Park drug experiment cartoon — Stuart McMillen comics
Rat Park drug experiment cartoon — Stuart McMillen comics

Well this does not seem hard to understand but in reality we were over generalizing and missing the true mark. The researchers observations failed to see the real problem. Psychologists call this fundamental attribution error. The rats were reacting pathologically because of a covariable…the cage.

Dr. Bruce Alexander saw that the rats were in “SOLITARY CONFINEMENT” and that these naturally curious and highly social Norway rats might act differently in a healthy communal environment which of course a rat would appreciate, and so he constructed a Rat Park or rat heaven. They filled the rat park with all types of colorful and fun things and places to hide and have rat type fun.

Rat Park drug experiment cartoon — Stuart McMillen comics

Well The Alexander Rat Park studies showed that the environmental social change made quite a difference. The caged rats and the Rat Park rats where habituated and given the choice to use. The solitary caged rats increased their usage, but the rat park rats resisted and avoided the dope that the caged rats eventually died from.

Rat Park drug experiment cartoon — Stuart McMillen comics
Stuart McMillen comics

These studies show that the dope was not magical. Though the chemical is more addictive than most. It was the lack of social connection and stimulation that actually makes the difference.

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Could it have to do with living without hope and being totally unconnected with friends and loved ones? Is addiction more a matter of feeling that you are in a cage and that nothing but the dope matters?

Maybe recovery has to do with social integration and spirituality?Why are we still putting harmless, addicts in prison? We know that cages will make them sicker than they already are, and that they will certainly return to their isolated drug addicted world upon release.

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Prisons produce negative change and if we expect anyone to rehabilitate we should not throw them into cages. How can we send the message that we will be judged, as a people and a society, by how we treat people in prison and institutions? Stigma and rejection are toxic cousins of addiction.

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The way people are treated and what they believe are why slums are over run with addiction. The people are in a battle zone and self medicating to offset misery and hopelessness. Our disregard for other human beings and failure to connect with them is the important issue.

Remember addiction is a human factor that everyone shares. People will become addicted to something, cellphones, TV, food, money, tobacco, drinking, and many other things. But all things are not equal and we need to function in ways that promote healthy living.

Further information:

Bruce K. Alexander’s Globalization of Addiction Website:

Watch Alexander video:

See the complete Rat Park Cartoon:

This entry was posted in CHAPLAINCY, COMMUNITY, CULTURE, Education, HUMAN SERVICE, MENTAL HEALTH and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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