The Causes of Drug Addiction are Complex

image of comic panels from rat addiction experiment

Comic panels, by Stuart McMillen, of the rat park drug addiction experiment, see the full comic.

The causes of drug addiction are not simple. Like many medical issues they are a complex interaction of factors.

Drug addiction: The complex truth by Tom Stafford

Many studies have shown rats and monkeys will neglect food and drink in favour of pressing levers to obtain morphine (the lab form of heroin). With the right experimental set up, some rats will self-administer drugs until they die. At first glance it looks like a simple case of the laboratory animals losing control of their actions to the drugs they need. It’s easy to see in this a frightening scientific fable about the power of these drugs to rob us of our free will.

But there is more to the real scientific story, even if it isn’t widely talked about. The results of a set of little-known experiments carried out more than 30 years ago paint a very different picture, and illustrate how easy it is for neuroscience to be twisted to pander to popular anxieties. The vital missing evidence is a series of studies carried out in the late 1970s in what has become known as “Rat Park”. Canadian psychologist Bruce Alexander, at the Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, suspected that the preference of rats to morphine over water in previous experiments might be affected by their housing conditions.

Rats are smart, social creatures. Living in a small cage on their own is a form of sensory deprivation. Rat Park was what neuroscientists would call an enriched environment, or – if you prefer to look at it this way – a non-deprived one. In Alexander’s tests, rats reared in cages drank as much as 20 times more morphine than those brought up in Rat Park.

As the article notes more research is needed, but there should be more research into the importance of social environment on drug abuse and drug abuse treatment.

Related: Methods to treat addictionHow effective is drug addiction treatment in the USA?Prescription drug abuse in the USALooking at the evidence of treating alcoholism

3 thoughts on “The Causes of Drug Addiction are Complex

  1. I read the full comic and it’s very fascinating on how rats reacted on the morphine drug (and the whole experiment, too). Those were rats, and I know it has much greater effect on humans. Environment has really a great impact on how to deal with the illegal drugs. But as we all know, people taking drugs are always hiding from the crowd to cover up the activity. With the help of the health care services, we have addiction treatment recovery place wherein it can make a change to abusers as they will be exposed in a comfortable environment. This comic should be disseminated to the young people. They wouldn’t neglect this kind of read, for sure.

  2. Pingback: Almost everything we think we know about addiction is wrong | Addiction Rehab Centers Blog

  3. Pingback: Creating Conditions That Reduce the Likelihood That Teenagers Will Abuse Drugs | Addiction Rehab Centers Blog

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