It's not the morphine, it's the size of the cage: Rat Park experiment upturns conventional wisdom about addiction

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 1978. 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. 
223 responses
"Perhaps it's time the war on drugs becomes a war on inequality?" Not sure inequality is the problem since if all the rats were in equally tiny cages (e.g. in the former Soviet Union or North Korea), they would presumably all just be equally highly prone to addiction. Maybe it would be more appropriate to say, a war on low quality of life.
Very insightful. I used to work for the Manhattan DA way back when. The King drug laws were really harsh.
Steve D - perhaps that is an indication that authoritarian countries have a far easier time, especially North Korea, of preventing a national drug supply in the first place. After all, it's far easier to find the drugs when you're trying to search someone who has no right of due process whatsoever, no international communications networks, and no working knowledge of the possibilities. Freedom obviously begets greater possibilities of "wrongdoing," however, that is not necessarily an argument in favor of fewer freedoms.
I would offer that I don't think it's poor socioeconomic conditions but rather depression, isolation, disenfranchisement, etc. I mean, middle class and wealthy people become addicts too, right? To put it another way, I've known addicts from across the socioeconomic spectrum, but I've never met a junkie who wasn't depressed *before* they ever started using. It seems to me like once these rats have something to live for, they decide to start living.
Rats are wired by nature to be extremely social. Maybe what we're seeing in the Rat Park experiment isn't so much about the size of the cage as that rats are more powerfully drawn to social involvement than to opiates. For rats, maybe being social is the better buzz. I wonder if there is any way to devise a cross species experiment to gauge whether rats are more powerfully drawn to social involvement than humans are, and whether opiates command a stronger or weaker hold on rats than on humans.
I agree with hopita. It's not "good living conditions" vs. "bad living conditions" -- that's subjective. It's how the person (or rat) *perceives* the conditions they live in. There are plenty of people, for example, who live in conditions that their peers describe as "good" but still perceive it as bad, possibly turning to drugs to alleviate their unhappiness. Think: How many times have you turned to a friend with a problem and said "Why are you doing this? You have it so good?" -- It's perception, not some objective outside assessment of quality of life. The experiment (which, by the way, I totally support and love) doesn't consider the variable of how "well-adjusted" the rats in it are (I don't know enough about rat psychology to know if this is even possible). A rat (or human) with other concerns or emotional problems may not perceive a "good" environment as all that great, and might turn to drugs even in the park; conversely, a rat (or human) in a cage that has no problem with their living situation might not turn to drugs at all. Maybe rats aren't emotionally complex enough to show these exceptions.
This says nothing to the fact that people destroy their blessed abundant lives (and families) that are not equivalent to "rats in a cage" for the drugs.
I would agree with Jason C. He covered pretty much what I would say here. It's all about perception and personality. People generally turn to drugs as a stress reliever, so one's perception and personality determines the source of one's stressor. Say someone has a general predisposition to be unhappy or depressed. Then, at some point, he discovers drugs and the happiness or relief he seeks in them. This person could be wealthy and have a "happy" or "successful" life with a "great" family, and still be unhappy simply because he finds no happiness in the the things he has. His "successful" life could actually be more stressing to him than a simpler one where he could perhaps be more content. It's all about putting people in their ideal environment.
North Korea is actually facing a huge meth epidemic right now: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/...
This is on the front page of Reddit right now. Beware the Reddit Jr. Economist League in the comment thread going out of their way to discredit "inequality" or "poor socioeconomic conditions" for the cause of anything negative.
Hardly a new revelation. This study was done 35 years ago.
The implied extrapolation of these ideas is that it must be the same for humans. If that is indeed the implication, then it doesn't explain why the rich white kids I know are the worst drug users by far. I suppose it's because a rat doesn't have purchasing power, all its drugs are free. ...maybe we should offer drugs to everyone for free.
So predictable. A study about addiction appears, implicating environmental conditions in the cause of a social ill, and "it's all subjective" idiots come out of the woodwork. I'm sorry but it's not - or at least not nearly enough for the discussion move from social policy to individual therapy. '"Good living conditions" vs. "bad living conditions"' just aren't subjective. There are plenty of aspects of human life which are essentially required for baseline happiness in a modern society: proper nutrition, shelter, safety, stable finances, access to education, job opportunities, reliable and sufficient healthcare. Sure, you can have all these things and still be unhappy, but it's much less likely. You're certainly going to experience a hell of a lot less stress and respond to addiction differently. The only major exceptions here being the result of mental illness, such as clinical depression. But which, on the other hand, will likely respond to socioeconomic improvements just as addiction coping ability does.
David, and many others here - are making the assumption that "rich" == "happy". This is most certainly not the case - and in fact it has been shown time and time again that money has nothing to do with happiness. Perhaps said kids are apart of Gen Y, where they're promised the world (high expectations) but reality paints a very different picture. This is a pretty common case for unhappiness. Bad socio-economic conditions lend pretty well to unhappiness, especially if you're part of gen y.
The factor is stress. Stress affects normal body function. It affects the way the body responds to stimuli including drugs. It is sound science that a research animal experiencing minimal stress will allow the best data to be produced. The best way to minimize stress outside of handling is to give the research animal a "home" that meets its natural behavioral needs. This depends on species and other factors. Rats in the wild (or semi-wild, if you prefer) do not sit still all day, they run around. They also live in colonies, not alone or in pairs. The Rat Park also includes a wealth of enrichment. Enrichment is defined as objects or activities that allow an animal to exhibit natural activities. A hamster that isn't given adequate chewing materials, for example, will get stressed out and chew on the bars of its cage. When an animal is able to express its natural inclinations to as full an extent as possible, the body is minimally stressed. Obviously a human and a rat do not have the same needs, but we all need stress relief. We all need well-being. A rat may be stressed for different reasons than a human, but a stressed rat is a better model for a stressed human; whereas a minimally stressed rat is a better model for a minimally stressed human. As for human stress, study after study shows that poverty is strongly correlated to stress. That is not to say poverty is the only "cause" of drug addiction by any means. But I see folks debating the role of poverty in this discussion
That's another proof that caged animals who get experimented on get distressed just like humans would. Isn't it time to seek more humane alternatives?
@ Sympathizer Animal scientists, particularly on the veterinary side, are very aware of the stress issue. I think it's fair to say it is a central focus in animal research. I am coming at this as a vet tech student with some experience in animal research science, and as an animal lover, particularly a rat fan. There is incredible emphasis nowadays on minimizing stress in research animals not only through strictly regulated and monitored experimental protocols (for example, even mice must receive adequate analgesia during and after any painful procedure) but also on the husbandry side through reduced and gentler handling, improved care regimens, and enrichment programs. Many laboratories have dedicated enrichment coordinators, just like zoos have. Obviously there is much more work to be done. And so I am very excited to see this research in particular, because it shows just how fast we are moving in the right direction in understanding how stress affects humans and animals, and implementing that understanding in enrichment and housing protocols that are better for the animals and produce better data, which will in turn continue to help animals and people. If you're in the US I'd also encourage you to check out the Animal Welfare Act, particularly look at how every institution must have an IACUC (Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee) that approves or doesn't approve research protocols. You will find that scientists are required by law to justify the number and species of animals they are using, and indeed to justify using animals at all, as opposed to alternatives such as living tissue samples and computer models. Don't get me wrong, I don't think animal research is perfect. There's just a lot to it that people don't generally know about and if you're interested, whether pro or con, I'd urge you to learn more.
So, the major argument has been rich v. poor, in the issue of drug abuse. That simply isn't the case though. It's about isolation v. acceptance. I know plenty of rich people that are miserable because of their isolation, i.e. it's hard to relate with the rest of society when you are significantly better off. Honestly, I wish I knew what that felt like, but I never will. I come from a poor family, yet with a high with ethic. I will, most likely, never be rich, but I've observed this phenomenon first hand, and understand the findings. I have a bachelors degree in social studies (not really, but my degree has a very long title). Rich or poor, fat or skinny, tall or short, I see the same effects over multiple situations, where social isolation was the key. They had no one to talk too, no mentors, no structure. I know i'm ranting, but I hope someone found this informative and helpful. We all feel pain, despite socio-economic status...
Rat Park experiment seemingly reduces the complexities of addiction, opiate addiction to the hackneyed 'nature vs. nurture' paradigm. That mammals, in particular experimental lab rats, may seek out and administer a potent drug as 'self medication' as a response to the immediate environmental conditions is not surprising given the potency of opiates. But to conclude that rats conditioned to living in 'middle class' rat cages, an environment with reduced stress factors, indeed learned somehow to adopt healthier coping mechanisms the example being choosing tap water more often that morphine despite the availability of opiates. There is no discussion of the controls designed into the experiment. There is no doubt that addiction often is a associated with poor living conditions brought on by poverty, inadequate housing and unhealthy food choices. All of which impact individual health and the overall health of the community. However, the rampant epidemic of OxyContin overdoses among America's middle and upper middle class youth in a era of declining addiction rates to heroin is not explained. Rat Park is simplistic and inadequate in explaining the complex addiction mechanism present in all mammalian brains, let alone those mammals with complex social systems, culture, and languages governing behavior.,
Okay wow, yes, this was from the '70s. Would love to be able to edit or delete comments at this point.
Very interesting, when I took some lectures in Psychology & my teacher told that in rehabilitation centres what they do most is to keep the patients occupied through out the day with some sort of work and make them work according to a timetable without leaving any big time-gaps between activities and make them interact with people (social aspects). He told the reason behind this is human mind tends to get more addicted to things like this when isolated or when u live like a caged animal, etc...
The original research actually supports the idea that cage size is important. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/98787 It's the popular message "you will become so addicted you will kill yourself for drugs" that needs modification. And being rich is its own kind of cage, if you want to keep the money, because it is impossible to tell who wants to be your friend, and who wants the money.
I think you hit the nail right on the head. I have been thinking about the addiction issue for a while and when I read your article, it hit me like a big cartoon anvil. I sense truth in your observation. Also @Joshua. Very profound observation. Being rich doesn't make you happy. It traps you into your own special cage, unless you are very careful.
Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage!
Flawed study? Why did they 'force' the rats to consume morphine instead of putting them in small cages and letting them addict themselves? Forcing them introduces a process that the rats were likely to have a strong aversion to, as well as the associated morphine.
J. Strobe is correct. Rats prefer smaller enclosures because they seek walls and corners and are naturally fearful of open spaces. But, they are social animals, and isolation is cruel for a social animal.
FWIW, Soviet Union _did_ have massive problem of alcohol addiction, despite intermittent campaigns against it. Statistics about addiction to substances other than ethanol and nicotine was, unfortunately, classified.
That rat park looks like a nice place to live. :(
The Soviet Union had such a HUGE alcohol problem and the alcohol addicts were so desperate that there was a rash of ppl getting very I'll from trying to consume various aviation fuels and fluids when alcohol was access was restricted.... booze should not to be underestimated as a method for maladapting to social ills.
Muito interessante, ótima experiência, o problema é que na cidade quase todos moram em gaiolas comuns, e a "pobreza" acaba imperando para muitos...
I would like to say thank you both to the OP for posting this but also to Laura E for her insightful comments.
> 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 It seems to me that self-injection has wildly different implications for addiction than an oral route, particularly in rats. Let's say a rat drinks morphine-doped water. Maybe the rat really enjoys the feeling and would like to get high again, but perhaps the rat doesn't know how to do it, since several minutes at minimum have passed between the time the rat drank the water and the onset of the drug. It would be interesting to see the Rat Park experiment replicated, but with a surgically implanted device that could release morphine directly into the rat's bloodstream based on some trigger - perhaps just proximity to a certain area.
I'm rather surprised that the other major archetype hasn't been brought up once here. The one where perfectly happy, socially adjusted, well-to-do financially, and healthy individuals take drugs for the simple fact that they feel good. Then they take more, and more, and soon, the physical addiction sets in. The trap closes in and they keep going in order to not have to face the torture of withdrawal. There are also the medical patients that require narcotic pain relievers for long periods of time, long enough to become fully addicted, then receive a treatment that removes the pain. They are left with an addiction that has become a part of their life, one that the brain associates with not hurting any more. Then the fear of the torture of withdrawal sets in ... Humans are more complex than rats, most likely. If they are not, then the simple fact that we do not share a common language prevents us from sharing and understanding our diverse and infinitesimal issues which vary from person to person. When we test for the results on an expected, specific outcome, with preconceived archetypes in mind, is it any wonder the results are highly predictable and equally suspect?
Once you go threw the physical withdrawl,you'll either keep using the drug because you still like it. If it causes you more misery than enjoyment, you'll quit. Not easy when your body is doing everything to make your body produce endorphine, but once you start making them again, you'll quit, as long as it's not doing what it once did anymore.
Heroin is not morphine. By that logic Codeine is also morphine. Or Diet Coke is the same as regular coke They (codeine, morphine and diamorphine - active part of heroin) do get converted to a similar morphine derivative in the body but have very different clinical therapeutic uses. Simply put: Diamorphine is more lipophilic which makes it more potent as it is able to cross the blood brain barrier better.
@ Steve D - I might suggest to do a search for alcohol and drug abuse in CCCP and other former soviet bloc states. This was huge social issue in communist times and continue to be huge issue today in Russia where vodka and heroin ruin many more lives. The government tried many times (unsuccessfuly) to crack down on the social ills of drinking but it was very pervasive problem. A lot of people turned to home brew and some military was so desperate they drank the fuel grade alcohol. I don't agree with the whole article but I think there is some thing to be said for the way that political repression and poor social mobility inflicts depression open people might cause them to turn to abuse the things like alcohol and drugs which causes harm in the long term.
I think one thing that this whole thread has made me realize is how simply inequality itself is not the fundamental problem. Nor is economic poverty alone. It is poverty of all kinds, particularly of lack of community and lack of participation with others. When we isolate ourselves, and feel wholly to our own — to be in a cage whether imposed on us or self-imposed — that is when many (not all) seek succor in any that is available.
I'd suggest that its not 'good vs bad living conditions', its about our fractured society. We live in a society which is not suited to happy human living. I would argue a lot of this is lack of control over our lives - most people are beholden to employers, they have little control over their lives, even many well off people with objectively good living standards suffer from this. The inequality or poverty which matters is that of power- economic inequality is often a proxy for that (the rich boss and poor worker), but at its root its the lack of power over your own life, be it thanks to bosses, petty officials, lack of community or domineering parents (or any of a myriad of other issues). This is why the absolute worst thing you can do for a drug addict is to lock them up and taking away whatever little power they have over their life away. Naturally, this won't be the whole story, there will also be some chemical element, and some people may be more predisposed to addiction. I'm not sure how the classic case of the drug addict musician comes into this - but it helps explain most other examples I can think of - there's undoubtedly something missing, and more research which could be done...
You wrote, "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. " This is a bit of an oversimplification. How does this explain the many rich folks who struggle with an addiction? They live, work, and play in the "rat park" but use drugs as readily as a poor person.
I'd say it's not about poor socioeconomic conditions. i don't see that at all. what i see is poor outlook on life. a rich man can feel trapped and self medicate to ease his pain. so can a middle class housewife in the suburbs. the real thing we're seeing here is when people, who are social beings, get out, get active, eat right, get laid enough, and interact with others, they are less likely to take to self-destructive behavior.
I think Tristan is onto something. The lack of control over our own lives has to be a contributing factor. I have known too many rich addicts whose own versions of Rat Park were far bigger and more luxurious - relative to the size of a rat, of course - than the original Rat Park, who died of drug and/or alcohol addiction. We make our environs smaller and smaller the more we tie into drugs. And alcohol. I remember myself, a man who could pick up and go anywhere I wanted at any time, living in my own squalor and sucking on a vodka bottle day and night (whose distinctions had lost their meaning somewhere along the line). Socioeconomic stressors may certainly play a part, but the larger part is played by the person inside.
The more I look at this and other similarly themed "studies", the more I see that one can - apparently - design an experiment in certain perhaps subtle ways that will prove the designer's point of view. You design one that proves - in your summary - socioeconomics is to blame. I design one that proves, in my own summary, that socioeconomics has virtually nothing at all to do with it. These experiments seem to be "setups" one way or another. Set up to prove one thing or another. I don't think I will place as much faith in "scientific" measures and means as I have done over the years. That is what this study has done for me!
being in recovery for almost 9 years I refuse to go to NA or AA for several reasons... one in particular is they are adamant to declare addiction a disease and they prepare themselves for relapse! While I did treatment based on a cognitive model and also another treatment that was based on faith... what I learned was: addiction is obviously a choice, the company you keep and environment influence a person to get high and making oneself a "victim" justifies in the persons mind that they "need" a hit! My belief is addiction is a "symptom of a problem" not a disease! I believe I am qualified to say that due to my own past addiction issues... one of the main drugs I had a problem with was heroin. Today I see it was the people and places I chose to be around... my problem (and many other peoples) is their "THINKING"... I always tell people recovery is easy... make a choice to change EVERYTHING about your life or if you keep doing what you've always done you'll get what you've always got! Some get it and some don't! It actually gives me anxiety to be in those kinds of environments now.
perhaps it is time to STOP putting animals in small sterile artificial environments and running a myriad of tests on them?
So how about rats getting addicted in the rat park? Would they stay addicted?
So "drugs = heroin" and "heroin = drugs". This is so wrong on so many levels... To remember you: There are millions of people out there consuming "drugs" without getting any addiction. In fact, heroin is one of the very few really addictive drugs. Also, that experiment shows nothing new. Every drug user knows that the social environment is the nr. 1 reason for an addiction.
Is this why Cannabis is legal in North Korea?
Last time I checked I'm not a rat.
I don't care how old the study is. I hadn't heard about it. Your article is perfection! Thank you!
People keep referencing how many of the middle people and well to do households often face just as much addiction and drug use. I'm not sure if you didn't read the end of the article and just jumped straight to the comment section, but it says that monetary stress is just one type. I'd say obviously the other factors, like family life, friends, expectations vs. reality, personal philosophy, reasons to live etc, are much more of an influence on one's stress or happiness level than money is. So what the article is saying is that ultimately if you are unhappy or depressed for ANY reason, this is the REAL reason you will get addicted to drugs, or rather the most predominant reason why one would.
Interesting conclusion in your last paragraph which led me to think, what other forms of unnatuaral anesthetization result from different unhealthy circumstances? If we say, according to this, that drug addiction is primarily maintained or increassed due to emotional circumstances, then what about when we look at unnatural sexual addiction or food addictions? I would propose that even these are a form of addictive anesthetization due to other types of unhealthy circumstance (and including emotional circumstances). Is the lack of a loving father or mother a form of "caging" compatible to that of the D.A.R.E. experiments? How about an abusive father or mother? Is it so impossible to think that these circumstance could result in the unnatural response of homosexuality? Or is this type of clear logic defined mostly as bigotry by the ignorant?
This seems to provide a commentary on the alienation of most people in our modern world. It helps explain why addiction is pretty rare in tribal communities. Even though we are surrounded by people, there is something about the way our world is organized that prevents us from really connecting and "playing" together easily. Certainly, socioeconomics (housing, food, healthcare, etc.) add stresses that would predict somewhat greater levels of addiction in the poor. But consider some other stresses: us all being taught that babies shouldn't be picked up or fed when they cry, for fear of spoiling; 5-year-olds or younger being required to attend institutions where they are cared for in groups by people they don't know; parents being forced to leave their homes and families for most of the day every day, to work at jobs they find unfulfilling but feel trapped into continuing; receiving constant messages through the media about the inadequacies of our bodies, incomes, and various aspects of our lives; being judged by our gender, race, sexuality, IQ measure, etc... the list could go on and on. Modern urban living is highly stressful. It's fascinating to think that if we all had our basic living needs met, we could reduce addition dramatically. This is a very different model of thinking about addiction, and one that is very consistent with my own observations as a social worker. The vast majority of seriously addicted people lead very unhappy lives that they are trying to escape from. And a lot of people in our modern society, even the "successful" ones, are desperately unhappy with their lives. Addressing quality of life probably would address addiction a lot better than trying to ban all addictive substances ever has. ---- Steve
Or it proves that when people are bored and unstimulated they're more likely to use drugs. Boredom is universal, it doesn't just exist in poverty.
Bias is a real problem in scientific studies (pharmaceutical companies manipulate studies for profit motive, politicians manipulate them for personal reasons etc.) and the conclusion you drew from this is a good example. Science is supposed to be purely logical, it has nothing to do with your beliefs.
Very interesting and I'm glad someone took the time to experiment with this idea but I do hope that to the people doing this a second theory also comes to mind... The fact that a lot of animals other than humans can develop a more complex social behaviour as a consequence of their lifestyle; not always as apparent to us.
To James. I could be incorrect but I do believe rat's like most animals can smell the opiate in the water. Otherwise the experiment would be pointless, and the rat's are choosing at random which water to drink. Then it would be an experiment on randomness and not addiction. Is any animal the appropriate animal to base any experiment on that will speak to the human "animal", and how we respond to life conditions, or our mental thought process? To put it simplistically, did any of the rat's occasionally partake of the opiate laced water? Did any of the young rat's try to sneak some of the opiate laced water? (calm down, it is called levity people) Yes certain animals and their social structures can mirror human social structures, but we are so much more complex then any animal I know of. Not to mention studies done on randomness have shown the "Human Factor", Ie: an observed study. Does have an effect on the outcome of an experiment. Now add in all the other factors that have been discussed here. The answer for most of our complex issues, or any question we pose when the subject is still not fully understood. The answers do not lie in just one study, one "experts" opinion, or any other singularity. Especially when speaking to the human mind/behaviors. When we learn this and remember at all times to not close our minds to the outcome of experiments that never get published. The ones the "experts" ignore because it does not fit their preconceived beliefs. When we remove the ego and believe our eyes, consider all factors. We will find the answers to many of our questions on the human "animal". Probably on many more of the unknown's we are looking for answers on as well.. Just my humble layman's opinion.
This was a really great experiment. Was there a similar experiment done where 1 "clean" rat was introduced to 20 morphine induced rats in a closed environment and given the choice of tap water or morphine laced water to see if it copies behavior.
People and rats take drugs for one reason: to alleviate pain. It may be physical pain or psychological pain or social pain, but that's why we do it.
Why all the hatred of rats?
Perhaps this should give us pause for thought about obesity. Perhaps we should stop pretending that people who are over weight are lazy or lack self control. Perhaps we should finally come to terms with the single most common cause of obesity and that is that food provides pleasure and many of us live lonely, unfulfilled lives, devoid of touch and the other basics of human happiness. And that in such an environment we "self medicate". We replace other unavailable sources of pleasure with food. In fact quite a few us haven't even really stopped to realise this. Perhaps epidemics like obesity and diabetes might lead us to realise that the real public health issues have to do with how dysfunctional our society is. Its a lot easier to blame the individual rather than turn a spotlight on our culture. But we should, for this, and many other reasons.
Despite all my rage, I am still just a Rat in cage
the only problem with claiming it is strictly a socio-economic affliction is that such theories do not take into account drug abuse among the wealthy. How many celebrities have gone into rehab? How many CEOs were doing lines in the executive bathrooms in the 80's and 90's? Yes, the lower strata are more prone to wanting the escape, but it is not the only place its a problem. Anywhere there is stress and boredom or hard living conditions. Anyone who feels the need to 'checkout' is at risk. Also, were the addicted rats given morphine water in their cages? or injected? If they were not administered the morphine the same way as in the park, then the experiment has a hole in it. They may just not like the flavour of the morphine water. or understand that what they want is right there.
The mistake I see in the conclusion(s) drawn from the Rat Park experiment is that people think that a conclusion can be drawn from it. What that experiment did was show that the conclusion drawn from the previous experiment was invalid. Or, at least, valid only for the set of circumstances created for that experiment. Change the circumstances and you change the outcome. Neither experiment can support a positive conclusion about anything. But they both supply data for further investigation.
I was wondering if the rats just chose the water over the morphine because they haven't the intelligence to know that taking the morphine would have relieved their withdrawal symptoms, and they are hard wired by extinct to drink water not morphine laced water. The rats that were given the 50 whatever days of morphine weren't allowed to have plain water those days. From I've what heard rats are smart but they're not human. I think had they known the difference they would have taken the morphine and a drink of water and went along playing with their friends without withdrawal symptoms.
You should google and youtube the term 'land value tax', also known as "Georgism". It may seem like a paradox at first, because it actually opens up more space in central locations and reduces rents.
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? Jct: The liberation of the rats from the mort-gage death-gamble cages is on the horizon. Wonder how much drug addiction there'll be when the Argentine Solution or UNILETS timebank give everyone a great-paying job?
These are some of the most intelligent comments I have seen. Very civil, educated discussions.
Been sayin' this for some time, yo.
For what it's worth, I've heard stories about Vietnam vets getting off heroin addictions without withdrawal upon returning home from the war. Here in Sihanoukville, I know of two people who quit addictive drugs even though they are freely and cheaply available here.
DRUGS COSY CAGE > RAT PARK
Great article but the last paragraph I believe was a little too personal with respects to what you feel poverty is. Some people get way too nationalistic which leads to children in such families prone to rebelliousness. I'm talking about humans I've dealt with personally. One thing that we have that rats don't have is free will. And I've seen some dumb asses who outright choose to engage in the use of hard drugs. Regardless of how well I tell them "dood you're going to F yourself up if you F around with that crap" they don't care and choose to anyways. People like that should still be treated differently with respect to what their actions may eventually draw the ire of the law down upon them. The drug war is bs still and I agree with all but that.
Gary, Thank you so much for posting this! Someone complained that it was an experiment done 35 years ago, but the information in it is so important and i am sure a lot of people had not seen it before. I know i hadn't and i am so glad that i did. I spent years in pain, often unbearable pain, and besides the pain itself, the worst thing i had to endure was the uneducated, predudicial, incorrect, harmful things that people would say and actions they would have. I know so clearly from being a person in serious, intractable pain and using pain medication to cope with the pain, that if you are in pain and you take the amount of pain medication that is needed to take care of the pain then you will not get high. Point blank. No high. You only get high from pain medication if you take it without pain or take more medication than is needed for your pain. And there have been studies done that show that the average person who takes pain medication for a pain problem does not end up addicted. People who have trouble with addiction and take pain medication are at risk for becoming addicted. And that shouldn't be surprising to anyone. That is a difficult, dangerous situation for them. Although, it is possible for it to work. I do know someone who had addiction problems for over 30 years and finally stopped all the addictions he had. He had been clean and sober for over 10 years when the pain issues he had become so severe that there was no other option, but to take pain medication. He is careful and never takes more medication than his pain needs, so he never feels high. He has been using pain medication carefully for a year or two and has not relapsed at all back into addiction. So, it is difficult and risky, but possible. I wish so badly that people would understand that if you don't take more pain medication than your pain needs, then you never feel high. And, how can you get addicted to the high that your medication gives you, if you aren't getting any feelings of being high from it? I also wish they would understand that it is bad for your health to be in pain. People often act as if it is stoic and wonderful and heroic to live with pain, but it's actually just really unhealthy. And as bad as people's understanding and ideas about pain medication use to be, there is a huge wave of articles stating over and over again how people who take pain medication become addicts, are addicts and pain doctors are drug pushers and criminals. And how we have to clamp down hard on all of it because it is an epidemic. It is not an epidemic. It is sensationalism. Taking a few extreme cases and reporting as if that is normal and prevalent, happening everywhere, all the time. And putting in information that is not even correct. These articles are pushing misinformation and they are harmful. It is getting harder and harder for pain to be treated. In the midst of my problems with pain i lived in Europe for a year. They treat pain so rationally there. They feel, as we should, that no one should be in pain. It is unhealthy. So if you are in pain, they treat it. Hopefully one day we will also get to a place where we treat pain rationally and we dont keep people in an unhealthy state, keep them in pain, because of our irrational fear of pain medication based on misinformation and scary, tall tales. Thanks again so much Gary. This experiment is enlightening.
"It's not about the drugs. It's about the social environment in which we live" should read, "it's not ALL about the drugs; social environment is also important".
With regard to hopita's comment and echoed by others "I would offer that I don't think it's poor socioeconomic conditions but rather depression, isolation, disenfranchisement, etc." the missing point here is that depression just does not happen. Here I need to clarify that of course none of us believes in the disease model approach where there is a chemical imbalance because as we all know after 40 years of trying to find the chemical imbalance it's never been found. Then if it's not the disease model what is it? Enter the social determinants of health. Since it's inception as a discourse over 40 years ago there is plenty of evidence for the 'social gradient' in health where increasingly adverse health relates to social position in life or socioeconomic circumstances. Whether it's heart disease, mental distress, diabetes etc the poor cop it worse. These symptoms are there across all socioeconomic conditions, however progressively get worse the lower down the scale you go, so to speak. This experiment exemplifies it beautifully.
Interesting re-look - yes, feeling unconnected or at a loss compared to your perception of others may lead to addiction but what about those that self-medicate due to brain chemical imbalances? Untreated schizophrenia, bi-polar-ism, etc. leads many to alcohol and other drugs. Drug addiction, whatever the cause is a mental health issue and determining the underlying root cause for the individual is the first step to healing.
I'm curious to know what the authors idea of a war on poverty is.
Literally rat in a cage is incorrect language? Mmm define terms. One definition of rat is a "bad human being" not just a vertebrate mammal of the rodent species - rat literally has different meanings? A quick web google gives no. 2 meaning of "rate" as literally " informal a despicable person, especially a man who has been deceitful or disloyal. "her rat of a husband cheated on her" Cage - arguably a cage is defined as an enclosure, whether it is made of metal bars, or other barriers that restrict movement. Again an online dictionary says "2. A barred room or fenced enclosure for confining prisoners." Who is to say a foetid neighbourhood is not literally "a fenced enclosure for confining prisoners"? I can imagine rail lines or highways, a canal or other infrastructure fencing an enclosure of inner city desperados - literally.
sorry about a typo on "rat" not rate.
First and foremost it's been proved over and over again that the war on drugs is nothing but an archaic and shambolic waste of tax payers money. Secondly no matter what scientists conclude, the experiments were on rats NOT human beings. Having said that I hope that when they do the right thing and conduct experiments on people instead that the findings are the same. Then and only then governments might be forced to do something about it!
I work with addicts. Addiction is complex, alcoholism has a hereditary component and drug addiction seems to be an expression of distress. Distress can be put down to many factors, absence of happiness being the chief one. Telling people that they are 'wrong' doesn't work. Compassion for the addicted is vital. More understanding will save lives and judgementalism will not. A change of approach seems beyond the current government. There's money in ethanol.
Thank you, you have given me hope. To the people discussing this subject how many of you suffer from depression and self harm escapism? I love the continual mentioning of 'I have a ffriend ' and then follow with overly intellectual discussion- there are people who work in addiction care posting on this topic and I hope you read their comments iin dealing in addiction - the fact they truly know and approve the basic message of this experiment is evidence that prison is not the best way to help our community members
I love this but unfortunately even the most well off humans will still form addictions due to a higher level of thought. If we were as simple as rats, we could just change living conditions. But we cant change humans warped thoughts of ones own life.
Perhaps in humans it has nothing to do with wealth. There are man constraints we give ourselves and one of them IS money. So perhaps we should look at addiction a little differently. They are all methods of escaping and then the physical addiction to follow.
It is not "Socioeconomic conditions." It is "Boredom."
As an ex-smoker who had no problems quitting after 20 years and an occasional drinker who's never felt the NEED to have a drink, this helps me wrap my head around the idea of addiction. Fact is, I always had something else to do.
I applaud the blogger for pulling-up and sharing this perspective and a number of thoughtful comments. It is somewhat striking to note that this is still an area of active discussion as if this was new research. If you follow the link to the original study (which I am glad was provided), one can see that it was published in 1978. So much for the courses and textbooks that only refer to the original work on self-administration in the restrained rats.
This is an incredibly simplistic take on the matter. Plus, I think you're interpreting this study in almost 180 degrees from its intended interpretation. What I read this as demonstrating is that if you take NORMAL rats and put them in a cage, they'll self-medicate. But scientists studying HUMAN addiction know that there's only a relatively small segment of the population that get addicted under normal circumstances. So what this study is looking at is the NORMAL population -- not the population of addicts. So this actually has ALMOST NOTHING INTERESTING TO SAY about actual addicts. It's fine for y'all to sit there as non-addicts and make pronouncements about the origin of addiction in poverty; but simplistic approaches like bigger cages ain't gonna do shit for actual real-world addicts.
Rats are not humans...of the few studies done on ghb it has been theorised and somewhat proven that when rats are given the choice of water and ghb laced water ( in a reasonably sized enclosure ) that rats only occasionally choose the ghb solution. Humans,on the other hand,can get addicted to the substance with the greatest of ease. My point is that no matter how many studies you do on addiction using rats, you are limited by the size and function of their brains. I call bullshit. Btw I am a marijuana addict and have used most drugs recreationally. I can think of only two that are not AT LEAST habit forming.
WAR ON DRUGS IS WAR ON FREE TRADE
@JasonC "There are plenty of people, for example, who live in conditions that their peers describe as "good" but still perceive it as bad" Or perhaps our common conceptualizations of what is "good" are simply misguided. Consider for example the 'successful middle-class suburban life' ... we commonly consider this to be 'the good life' - however, it is an objective fact that modern suburbs can be quite alienating and isolating, and antithetical to genuine community formation. Hence high rates of depression and suicide. What we need is to re-think some of the assumptions in our value systems. Some recent studies even show direct correlation between suburban lifestyle and postnatal depression rates.
Awesome job Mr Tan ! ! ! ! ! ! SHARE share SHARE share SHARE share
Well, i was a heavy Mariuhana and Alcohol abuser for several years (8 joints and half a litre of vodka/day), after i had had a severe break-down, burn-out and, following that, severe depressions. When i finally did bring myself to go to a psychiatric clinic for 3 months (after 7years!), i hadn't stopped this habit but was, myself, already so damn bored of it i almost couldn't bear it anymore (i bet a lot of heroin addicts feel that way too). In the clinic i discovered that almost ALL people with mental problems did medicate themselves - either with illegal drugs or abusing prescription ones. I am of the conviction that almost all people, who "stay with drugs" after that period of time in your early 20ies where everyone just wants to try some stuff out, are in fact people with personality disorders, depressions, etc who use them as a way to cope. So i do not think it is poverty: it is the feeling of inability to change your situation in any other way than to just flee it. Naturally, as we are not all of Dalai-Lamaese capabilities to bring out the good in us, poverty and the lack of possibilities do nurture those illnesses immensely.
Having gone through rehab in a professionals program with some of the most brilliant and wealthy people I have ever met, it is my assertion that it is the the brain, the drug, the socioeconomic circumstances, the metabolism of said drug AND the perception of the person's situation. There is no simple answer, but certain people are definitely prone to addiction for various reasons AND drugs provide great reinforcement characteristics to make this possible.
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