Current Events & Trends: Isolation a major factor in addiction

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Isolation a major factor in addiction

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Drug addiction is viewed by many in terms of chemical dependency—where the body and brain become altered to the point of apparent physical need that drives compulsion to stay on the drugs. This is valid to some degree. However, other addictions can take control of people’s lives that have no chemical hooks—yet they could perhaps involve some physical rewiring of the brain’s thinking pathways. Of course, many others see drug addiction as a moral failing that is easy to say no to if only one would just do so. And some do exert character to stop. But often this comes with help—or at least a sense of belonging among other people.

As pointed out in a recent Huffington Post blog, the theory of the predominance of chemical dependency in drug addiction was first established through rat experiments and later promoted in 1980s anti-drug advertising, yet was flawed:

“The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself . . .

“But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver [named] Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends . . .

“What happened next was startling. The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died” (Johann Hari, “The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think,” Jan. 20, 2015).

Moreover, Alexander reran the early experiments of isolated rats but after 57 days moved them, now addicted, to the Rat Park community. And strikingly, after some withdrawal, they soon stopped the heavy drug use and went back to normal life.

People are not rats, of course. Deep psychological and spiritual factors no doubt keep people in bondage to various addictions even in a positive environment. Yet a positive environment with companionship, particularly of loved ones, is surely a major factor in avoiding and overcoming addiction. It was pointed out that while a huge figure of 20 percent of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam became addicted to heroin, some 95 percent simply stopped when they came back home, very few with rehab.

God created us to be social creatures—to need connection with other people. Yet human connection in today’s society is minimal—with more than ever feeling isolated and alone. Bruce Alexander told the author “that for too long, we have talked exclusively about individual recovery from addiction. We need now to talk about social recovery—how we all recover, together, from the sickness of isolation that is sinking on us like a thick fog.”

We should all recognize that our care and being there for those around us struggling with addictions could be all the difference in helping them overcome. And if you’re trapped in something yourself, please try to reach out—to God and to other people. (Source: The Huffington Post Blog).