Rat Park and What it Means for Addiction Recovery

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There are many different ways, rehabs, systems and models to treat addiction. One type of treatment for addiction is called the social recovery model. More and more people are turning to this recovery model because of the way that it deals with an addict as a whole person rather than simply an addiction. Rat Park was the beginning of the social recovery model.

What is Rat Park?

In the 1970s, doctors and scientists were studying the properties and symptoms of addiction using rats. A rat was placed in a box with water treated with a drug and normal water. The water treated with the drug was almost always preferred by the rats.

As these experiments went on several scientists started to think about what the rats were actually responding to by taking the drug rather than the normal water. Rats are social creatures. Under normal circumstances, they live in groups, get exercise, and use their instincts to find food, nesting, and other recreation. In the boxes they had none of these, their only source of pleasure was the drug.

A group of scientists decided to find out exactly what the rats were responding to. They built something they called rat park. They put several rats in a very large cage with toys, bedding, food, drug-laced water, and regular water. Not surprisingly only a few rats continued to use the drugged water regularly. Most of the rats tried the drugged water and went back to normal water. The scientists came to the conclusion that the rats were using the drugged water due to isolation, loneliness, and boredom.

What Does it Have to do with Addiction?

Rat Park

During the Rat Park experiment, researchers concluded that the rats consumed drugged water due to isolation, loneliness, and boredom.

It is not surprising that this experiment seems to work with humans as well. During the Vietnam War soldiers would use opium and heroin regularly when they were stationed overseas in a warzone. When they came back the majority gave up heroin and opium easily as they got back to their lives. This phenomenon is still being studied but it does seem to show that people are more likely to suffer from addiction when they are isolated, lonely, and exposed to bad circumstances just like the rats in the boxes.

How can it Change the Overall Concept of Addiction Recovery?

The concept of social recovery doesn’t necessarily change the nature of addiction, it does change how you deal with it. Some people are now realizing that the circumstance behind the addiction also needs treatment along with the symptoms of the addiction.

Once the cause or negative circumstance behind the addiction stops, a person is less likely to remain addicted to the drugs. This makes social recovery a promising treatment for addiction.