The Rat Park Experiment for Addiction Recovery

Fifteen years ago, the Portuguese, faced one of the worst drug problems in Europe. To fight this, they decriminalized drugs, took money out of prisons, and put it into holistic rehabilitation. By concluding that human connection may be the antidote to those who struggle with addiction, their addiction rates were cut in half. Instead of jailing users, they were connected to communities. Their incredible success was born from the Rat Park experiment. The Rat Park experiment was developed in the 1970s by Bruce Alexander, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver.

Prior to Rat Park, experiments showed that rats, isolated and alone in a cage, preferred drugged water over plain water. They drank until they died. For the Rat Park experiment, a lush cage was created where rats had colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper through, and many of other rats to befriend. In Rat Park, the rats tried both water bottles, one filled with drugs, and the other just water.

According to Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Day of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari, 2015, the rats with good lives mostly shunned the drugged water. They didn’t like it. They consumed less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.

Professor Alexander argued this discovery challenged a view that addiction is a moral failing caused by too much hedonism. He also challenged another view that addiction is a disease taking place in your brain, which has been hijacked by drugs. His premise is that addiction is an adaptation. It’s not caused by you. It’s caused by your environment.

Studies from the Vietnam War indicated 20 percent of troops were addicted to heroin. According to the same study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, 95 percent of the addicted soldiers stopped using when they returned home. They were no longer living under terrifying circumstances, and so didn’t want the drug any more. Although PTSD plagued and still plagues Vietnam and other war Veterans, the case for less drug use holds firm when soldiers and ordinary citizens have better living conditions. Perhaps it is time to adopt Portugal’s example.

“Developing our capacity for compassion makes it possible for us to help others in a more skillful and effective way. And compassion helps us as well.”— Joan Halifax

Being at a rehab surrounds us with others on similar paths. Building camaraderie is about finding connection. Infinity Malibu is a highly sophisticated rehab where your treatment and care work towards Infinite change and lasting recovery for you. 888-266-9048

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