Reasons Scientists May Have Discovered The Real Cause Of Addiction
Addiction is currently defined as a chemical dependency caused entirely by the way the body reacts to a certain substance.
But Johann Hari, author of "Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs," believes it is a vital element of one's life that drives a person to addiction.
He recalls seeing an anti-drug commercial in the 1980s featuring an old experiment in which a rat was placed in a cage with two water bottles.
One bottle contained pure water while the other was laced with heroin or cocaine.
The rat became addicted to the second bottle and drank until it died.
Vancouver Psychology Professor Bruce Alexander, however, didn't think the rat kept drinking the drugged water solely because it wanted to.
He hypothesized it drank the drugged water simply because it was in a cage and had nothing else to do.
Professor Alexander would repeat the experiment but in a different environment he called Rat Park. This was a cage filled with toys, tunnels, food and, most importantly, other rats to play with.
The rats were presented two water bottles, just like the first experiment.
They tried the drugged water, but not one of them became addicted or died.
Their happy environment, Alexander concluded, instead caused them to ignore the drugged water after drinking just a little of it.
Hari initially interpreted this to be a unique characteristic of rats.
This was until he realized that the exact same thing was happening to Vietnam veterans.
He remembers reading 20 percent of soldiers had developed addictions to heroin overseas, but 95 percent of them were able to kick this habit when they came home.
Once they went from a frightening environment to a happy one, there was no longer a need for drugs.
It's the caliber of one's "cage," Professor Alexander said, that makes one an addict.
He set out to prove this theory by taking rats that had developed addictions and placing them inside the Rat Park.
These rats had consumed drugged water in isolation for 57 days straight and would once again have the drugs at their disposal.
One would imagine them to just continue their addiction, but after displaying brief withdrawal symptoms, they kicked their habits completely.
They adjusted to a happy life inside this new cage, which basically saved their lives.
This is why Hari believes the real cure for addiction is putting addicts in a positive, social environment.
The country Portugal proved him right about 15 years ago, when 1 percent of the country's population was addicted to heroin.
Instead of arresting and jailing addicts, Portugal decriminalized all drugs and invested in establishing housing, jobs and clinics for addicts.
Addicts connected with fellow victims and were gradually re-introduced to society with a new reason to live.
The result was a 50 percent decrease in the use of intravenous drugs in the country.
Hari urges the world to follow Portugal's example, surrounding addicts with opportunities for fulfillment and support.
And for those suffering from addiction, maybe it's time you welcome them into your "cage."