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New study upturns conventional wisdom on addiction

  1. ED50
    "We all learned this in DARE class. About the rats in a cage who can self-administer morphine who get addicted to the stuff, and then just hit that lever until they die. A seemingly keystone argument in the war against drugs. Professor Avram Goldstein, the creator of that study, has said: "A rat addicted to heroin is not rebelling against society, is not a victim of socioeconomic circumstances, is not a product of a dysfunctional family, and is not a criminal. The rat's behavior is simply controlled by the action of heroin (actually morphine, to which heroin is converted in the body) on its brain." So, it's the drug, and its addictive control. Surely we must eradicate drugs as a result!

    But there's another model out there by researcher Bruce Alexander of Simon Fraser University called Rat Park. From that wikipedia page:

    Alexander's hypothesis was that drugs do not cause addiction, and that the apparent addiction to opiate drugs commonly observed in laboratory rats exposed to it is attributable to their living conditions, and not to any addictive property of the drug itself. He told the Canadian Senate in 2001 that prior experiments in which laboratory rats were kept isolated in cramped metal cages, tethered to a self-injection apparatus, show only that "severely distressed animals, like severely distressed people, will relieve their distress pharmacologically if they can."

    To test his hypothesis, Alexander built Rat Park, an 8.8 m2 (95 sq ft) housing colony, 200 times the square footage of a standard laboratory cage. There were 16–20 rats of both sexes in residence, an abundance of food, balls and wheels for play, and enough space for mating and raising litters. The results of the experiment appeared to support his hypothesis. Rats who had been forced to consume morphine hydrochloride for 57 consecutive days were brought to Rat Park and given a choice between plain tap water and water laced with morphine. For the most part, they chose the plain water. "Nothing that we tried," Alexander wrote, "... produced anything that looked like addiction in rats that were housed in a reasonably normal environment." Control groups of rats isolated in small cages consumed much more morphine in this and several subsequent experiments.

    And so rats that are born into extreme conditions in small cages are clearly more likely to self-medicate. Tom Stafford of the BBC writes:

    The results are catastrophic for the simplistic idea that one use of a drug inevitably hooks the user by rewiring their brain. When Alexander's rats were given something better to do than sit in a bare cage they turned their noses up at morphine because they preferred playing with their friends and exploring their surroundings to getting high.

    Further support for his emphasis on living conditions came from another set of tests his team carried out in which rats brought up in ordinary cages were forced to consume morphine for 57 days in a row. If anything should create the conditions for chemical rewiring of their brains, this should be it. But once these rats were moved to Rat Park they chose water over morphine when given the choice, although they did exhibit some minor withdrawal symptoms.

    You can read more about Rat Park in the original scientific report. A good summary is in this comic by Stuart McMillen.

    So, if Rat Park is to be believed, drug addiction is a situation that arises from poor socioeconomic conditions. From literally being a rat in a cage. If you're a rat in a park, you'd rather hang out with your friends and explore the world around you.

    Perhaps it's time the war on drugs becomes a war on the existence of poverty? (edit: Poverty of our relationships to family, community, and nation too, not merely monetary. As commenters have pointed out, there are plenty of people who have plenty of money who may well be the most poverty-ridden in other respects.)

    It's not about the drugs. It's about the social environment in which we live. "



  1. Boltzmann
    "Drug addiction: The complex truth
    Tom Stafford
    Drug addiction: The complex truth

    (Copyright: Thinkstock)

    We’re told studies have proven that drugs like heroin and cocaine instantly hook a user. But it isn’t that simple – a set of little-known experiments carried out over 30 years ago tells a very different tale.

    Drugs are scary. The words “heroin” and “cocaine” make people flinch. It's not just the associations with crime and harmful health effects, but also the notion that these substances can undermine the identities of those who take them. One try, we're told, is enough to get us hooked. This, it would seem, is confirmed by animal experiments.

    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.

    To test his hypothesis he built an enclosure measuring 95 square feet (8.8 square metres) for a colony of rats of both sexes. Not only was this around 200 times the area of standard rodent cages, but Rat Park had decorated walls, running wheels and nesting areas. Inhabitants had access to a plentiful supply of food, perhaps most importantly the rats lived in it together.

    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.

    Inhabitants of Rat Park could be induced to drink more of the morphine if it was mixed with sugar, but a control experiment suggested that this was because they liked the sugar, rather than because the sugar allowed them to ignore the bitter taste of the morphine long enough to get addicted. When naloxone, which blocks the effects of morphine, was added to the morphine-sugar mix, the rats' consumption didn't drop. In fact, their consumption increased, suggesting they were actively trying to avoid the effects of morphine, but would put up with it in order to get sugar.

    ‘Woefully incomplete’

    The results are catastrophic for the simplistic idea that one use of a drug inevitably hooks the user by rewiring their brain. When Alexander's rats were given something better to do than sit in a bare cage they turned their noses up at morphine because they preferred playing with their friends and exploring their surroundings to getting high.

    Further support for his emphasis on living conditions came from another set of tests his team carried out in which rats brought up in ordinary cages were forced to consume morphine for 57 days in a row. If anything should create the conditions for chemical rewiring of their brains, this should be it. But once these rats were moved to Rat Park they chose water over morphine when given the choice, although they did exhibit some minor withdrawal symptoms.

    You can read more about Rat Park in the original scientific report. A good summary is in this comic by Stuart McMillen. The results aren't widely cited in the scientific literature, and the studies were discontinued after a few years because they couldn't attract funding. There have been criticisms of the study’s design and the few attempts that have been made to replicate the results have been mixed.

    Nonetheless the research does demonstrate that the standard “exposure model” of addiction is woefully incomplete. It takes far more than the simple experience of a drug – even drugs as powerful as cocaine and heroin – to make you an addict. The alternatives you have to drug use, which will be influenced by your social and physical environment, play important roles as well as the brute pleasure delivered via the chemical assault on your reward circuits.

    For a psychologist like me it suggests that even addictions can be thought of using the same theories we use to think about other choices, there isn't a special exception for drug-related choices. Rat Park also suggests that when stories about the effects of drugs on the brain are promoted to the neglect of the discussion of the personal and social contexts of addiction, science is servicing our collective anxieties rather than informing us.

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  2. Boltzmann
    This research is 25 years old.

    Why is it just now getting press?
  3. ED50
    Good question, maybe a problem with the amount of data?
  4. Basoodler
    Just a theory (don't get upset)

    Because a lot of studies that were produced around 15 years ago by doctors that were a long these lines caused a shift in how opiatea were administered. Now that its generally accepted that the USA is knee deep in pharmacutical addictions the before mentioned studies are under the microscope. Laws are reverting back to once again limit the use of opiates. Which scares the shit out of big pharm..

    I am not sure why they are saying a study from 1978 is turning anything on its head, while the world is reporting an epidemic..

    Oh well..

    I've known a lot of addicted human rats that disprove this study.. more than a couple who live in happy and fruitfull lives with tight families, who hurt a knee or strained their backs and became addicted. I feel it would be disrespectful to them and their families to discount that
  5. CrispCold
    Agreed. I have a wonderful family, raised and live in nice suburbs, make a decent living, have a great relationship with my girlfriend, so what is this study saying about me?
  6. ED50
    I agree completely, I was having a discussion with a friend about this and pretty much came to the same conclusion. It is rather obvious that those more oppressed, stressed and financially unstable are more likely to develop a substance addiction, but I just found it interesting how after developing a notable addiction, the rats did not have significant enough withdrawal symptoms when in a 'paradise' habitat to continue the opiate use. There are way too many anomalies in our society to disprove the theory of course (film stars etc.) but I think it does give an interesting insight on the significance of environment and withdrawal.
  7. Basoodler
    Withdtawal is an odd thing.. I think the 99% of the damage done by with withdrawal happens before any negative side effects present themselves.. just because its an excuse to continue using.. you know all the times you are at a crossroad about quitting but decide not to because the withdrawal will interefere with plans or whatever.. even though the drug use tends to ruin plans just as bad as withdrawals...

    People also tend to build up fear over the negative symptoms of withdrawal until it becomes a giant exaggerated wall of fear that seems impossible to get over..

    The actual symptoms can be pretty bad or even dangerous, but are still nothing compared to continied use

    So I agee that a persons envionment can impact withdrawal.. or lack there of
  8. Boltzmann
    I think you're being very narrow-minded in thinking that the only part of a person's context is their living situation. There are all kinds of mental and emotional stressors that are applicable to people in all situations. The point that those who become addicted tend to be those with triggering or extenuating circumstances is my observation.
  9. ED50
    If that's directed at me, I don't think I said or concluded my self to that at any time..I was just pointing out that it is obvious that your environment (if it is stressful, oppressing etc) has a lot to do with your chances of taking up a drug habit. The environment or surroundings may have very little or nothing at all which trigger drug use in the first place, and eventually addiction, for some people I agree. There are too many variables in that equation to truly say what is the most crucial one however, but I think that this study shows us that environment is a big key player. Also, I think that you are more likely to be exposed to new extenuating circumstances (other than environment) that trigger addiction just simply by being in an unfavourable environment... if that makes sense :p
  10. Boltzmann
    That was more at CrispCold. And yes, I'm not saying that it's always the same. My point is that the perspective provided in DARE classes is incorrect and that just because one has a good environment doesn't mean that the statement that environment and situation plays a critical role is incorrect.


  11. ED50
    Ah, my bad. Just really frustrated atm due to an inhumane amount of work :p but yeah, I agree, the DARE model is not precise enough at all to take into account other factors, more of a 'Ceteris Paribus' perspective.
  12. Basoodler
    I don't feel as though I am being narrow minded. Yea I agree part of the equation is the person and their enviornment.. and I also agree that a drug isn't a living thing with means to actively cause addiction.

    The fact still remains that the increase in legally prescribed opiates around 15 years ago led to not only more addicts, many people who normally wouldn't be in danger of addiction..

    Its truth painted clearly in statistics across the USA. Not only that but around the world. There is no conspiracy that would lead to patients living with more pain or industry making less money. I don't see. What anyone has to gain in perpetuating lies about prescription medication. Its not like there is anything to replace opiates.

    If accepting the obvious makes me narrow minded.. so be it

    A professional doesn't throw away their entire life because they are in a bad enviornment.. they do it to buy more crack..

    Drugs will never be legalized by selling fantasy claims.. evionment is a factor, but nowhere near a cause

    I agree that dare sucks do to the approach and DEA crafted misinformation they teach
  13. Crystal_Queen
    In summary: mice will take more drugs when they are bored.
  14. Waiting For The Fall
    Some people can be brought up in a generally good environment where there is an absence of street drugs being freely available. However, at a later point in their lives, after finishing school and say, working their way up the company ladder, the stresses of the workplace become unmanageable and a person turns to drugs. It may seem innocent at first, but steadily trying to cope with stress develops into something one can only describe as an addiction. This is something I have read about on this forum as well as experienced in my life when it comes to drugs other than alcohol. I think we have all seen alcohol addiction repeated throughout our lives. Different drugs, same problem.
  15. Basoodler
    ^ bravo

    Happened to me with clonzepam I had a coworker who was willing to give me his sctipt free because he niether liked not paid for the script. I at the time had a nice house, cars, family and career. All was good but work stress.. when I kicked the benzo I found the only way to sleep was to drink heavily.. and that blossomed into alcoholism

    I don't do anything these days. I'm too busy picking up the peices from mistakes I made from my previous addictions.

    Another example is a boss I had who was wealthy.. he kept getting hurt because of complications from a bum knee.. it led to back problems ect.. next thing I know I am approached by a dea agent who is investigating theft of C2 narcotics.

    . turns out it was my wealthy boss..

    he got caught up:

    at first when pill mills were handing out scripts For cash he was fine... although I am sure the unlimited supply of oxycontin from pill mills did him in .

    When those pill mills came under fire he was litterally fucked.. it wasn't long before the legit doctors had him labled as a drug seeker.. so he stole them knowing the dea would be calling if the books were off

    That to me is a powerful example of what addiction can do.. its nature ect

    I know several people like that.. and have grown to have strong opinions on the issue.

    My thinking is that some people are addicts when we are born.. some more than others.. they y
    end to get addicted to a good many things one of which is drugs.

    The main factor of actually becomming addicted is availability. For instance if I didn't have a coworker who supplied me with a script of benzos I wouldn't have become addicted.. or if my bosses pain issues didn't surface right in the prime of the pill mill phenom he would probably be ok too. It applies to other things.. like a person with some extra and a pc may get addicted to an online take or porn.


    I quit drinking could turkey with no outside help.. the withdrawals were actually noexistant.


    It wasn't a good enviornment considering that I basically had a tv, love seat fake xmas tree (no devorations) and a bed.. it was right after I was cleaned out by a x-gf.. she didn't even leave curtisns or a stove... I had donated my furniture to people who needed it..
    Which left my house fucking bare (2nd time in 3 years that a woman cleaned me out)

    I think that the withdrawals were mild because I had developed resolve. I don't know how to put that in better terms.. I guess I had become convinced that there were no other options.. and realized that a fuck up puts you back at square one.

    I think watching the boss mentioned above throw always his career, retirement, reputation and family without thinking twice really hit me personally.

    I think I already hated the habbit, but that in itself is not resolve.. the boss ordeal really impacted the small parts of me that not be obvious, you know the part of you that may not expressed in thoigjts..I mean the part that draws. You back or opens the door for reasoning about needed one more go.

    I think a person needs to get to that point and withdrawals won't be as much of a factor mentally.. because you never look back to reconsider or worry.. before that I couldn't even quit when I could seems the pain in my kids eyes

    The studies can say all sorts of things.. but the answer is resolve.. and availabilty for getting addicted.. you don't get addicted from one hit it even 20
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