The Rat Park experiment

Are drugs addictive? As odd as it might sound, one scientist believes that they weren’t — at least not to the degree most people insisted. He thought it had more to do with overwhelming misery and depressing environments, and to prove it he created the ideal environment… for rats.

In the late 1970s, Canadian psychologist Bruce Alexander was distressed by the laws and policies pertaining to opiate drugs. He didn’t approve of the harsh penalties dealt out to people in the name of addiction prevention. Generally those penalties were applied in order to prevent drug dealers from pushing their product on new people — at which point the addictive nature of drugs caused people to be hooked.

When Alexander looked at the studies indicating the addictive properties of drugs, he found what he believed to be insufficient evidence. There were plenty of interviews with drug users who self-reported themselves as being addicted, but Alexander reasoned that they had reasons of their own to declare that their affinity for drugs was beyond their control. Meanwhile, the relatively few studies done on addiction were highly technical and all relied on one thing: they were conducted on rats that lived and died in miserable, cramped cages.

It seemed to Alexander that the reported increased rates of addiction in economically depressed areas might have something in common with the consistently high rates of addiction in studies done on rats in distressing environments. Drugs provided relief from pain, and if it was the only relief available, it was no wonder that anything — animal or human — would turn to it with the fervour of an addict. Alexander began to put forward a new hypothesis. If rats were given a beautiful living area that allowed them a relatively happy life, they would not become addicted — via

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