Relationships and Drugs

I received an interesting article from one of my friends in Brisbane Australia, Ryan.  I met Ryan while working with the good folks from Mamre, an amazing organization serving folks with disabilities and their families in Queensland.  When I was last there in Feb., I did a presentation for Mamre staff on some of the newer developments in the field of social capital.

The article Ryan sent me by Johann Hari, author of the acclaimed book, "Chasing the Scream," summarized efforts to look at the root causes of drug addiction.  Hari highlighted an interesting study that was actually done in the 70's by a professor of psychology in Vancouver BC by the name of Bruce Alexander.  He was intrigued by previous studies that exposed rats, alone in cages, to 2 types of water for consumption.  One of the water sources was plain, but the other was laced with cocaine.  These studies found that the isolated rats turned to the drugged water as their primary source and most of them drank it until they died.

Alexander decided he would try a twist on this effort, so he build a "rat park" which was a lush cage where the rats had good food, tunnels to run through, colored balls, and plenty of other rats to play with and relate.  He also put 2 types of water, the same that was done with the initial experiments, plain, and cocaine laced.

Of course the rats tried both waters as they had easy exposure, but what happened next amazed Alexander.  The rats who had a good life in the "rat park" didn't like the drugged water - and most of them began to ignore it.  But Professor Alexander went further with the study.  He took rats that were in the solo environment, and had become hooked on the drug-laced water, up to 57 days of addiction, and then put them into the "rat park" with the happy rats.  This move from isolation/addiction back to the "rat community" began to change the addicted rats.  Although they had some withdrawal symptoms, soon they began to shun the drug-laced water and went back to having a normal life.

In digesting this study there are some messages.  Certainly rats are different than humans, but there is a powerful similarity.  That is, neither of us do well in isolated situations.  Efforts over the years that have looked at social isolation for humans conclude that it (social isolation) is as lethal as smoking 2 packs of cigarettes per day!

People (and apparently rats) need each other and when they build social capital their lives are better.  This should be instructive for all of us - so, work to build a good "human park" with good food, and things to play with, and plenty of other people to relate to and your life will certainly improve!