Very simply, everything you think you know about drug addiction might be wrong. In fact, it’s even probable that this is indeed the case. Johann Hari traveled approximately 30,000 miles in order to write the book Chasing The Scream: The First And Last Days of the War on Drugs, and he too found out that most of what he thought he knew was incorrect.
Most people’s opinions on drug addiction go back to info from the 1980s, and more specifically, to an advertisement from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America which was based on a famous experiment with rats. To sum it up, one rat was placed in a cage with two water bottles: one had water in it, and the other had water in it that also contained heroin or cocaine. As you’d probably expect, the rat kept drinking from the bottle of water with drugs in it (which eventually killed the rat), and the rest, as they say, is history.
The headline read, “Only one drug is so addictive, nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it. And use it. And use it. Until dead. It’s called cocaine. And it can do the same thing to you.” However, in the 1970s, Bruce Alexander (a professor of Psychology in Vancouver) questioned whether the death of the rat had anything to do with the fact that it was placed alone in the cage and had nothing else to do other than drink pure water or cocaine water. To put his question to the test, he conducted a similar experiment with rats placed in a cage with toys, food, and tunnels, in addition to the bottles of water and cocaine water.
Surprisingly, the results were entirely different than those in the 1980s commercial. In fact, the rats which frequently utilized the toys, food, and tunnels that the cage had to offer didn’t seem to like the cocaine water at all. However, the rats which avoided interacting with these things—and other rats—drank the cocaine water almost constantly. What’s more, there was somewhat of a similar experiment going on with humans at the time that demonstrates similar results: the Vietnam War.
According to Time magazine, heroin use among U.S. soldiers was “as common as chewing gum,” and research printed in the Archives of General Psychiatry reveals that about 20% of U.S. soldiers were addicted to heroin during the war. Yet, when these soldiers returned to America, 95% of them were able to stop using heroin quite easily. And these findings line up with those of professor Alexander as well; in another one of his experiments, he placed rats in isolation and they abused drug water for 57 days—but as soon as they were returned to the “community of rats,” they were able to return to a healthy, enjoyable, drug-free lifestyle.
Moreover, Canadian doctor Gabor Mate has found that patients who use strong drugs (for medical purposes) for extended periods of time are able to stop immediately once they return to their families and homes, while street-addicts who use the same drugs for the same periods of time would prefer to die rather than stop using. Similar results can be observed by examining the circumstances in an Arizona prison known as “Tent City”: prisoners being punished for drug use are placed in isolation for long periods of time, when they are released from prison they can’t obtain jobs due to their criminal records, and the vast majority of them end up living on the streets and abusing drugs at all costs.
Writer George Monbiot refers to our time in history as “the age of loneliness”—and perhaps this explains precisely why drug addiction in our time is such a crisis.
It seems so hopeless, but as can be seen—if we change the way we think and act pertaining to drug abuse—tangible hope does exist.
*This content was inspired by an amazing article that can be found here.