Conducted in the late 1970s by Canadian psychologist Bruce K (Dr Bruce Alexander), ‘Rat Park’ refers to a famous study into addiction.
The study involved two controlled scenarios involving rats, water, and the extremely addictive drug that is heroin.
In scenario one, rats were isolated in a cage with nothing to stimulate them. They were on their own with no company, and nothing to do.
In contrast, scenario two involved rats being put in a cage with other rats, therefore giving them company. These rats were provided with lots of toys and activities to stimulate them, quite the opposite to scenario one where the rats had absolutely nothing to do and no one to do it with.
In both scenarios, the rats were presented with two glasses of water, one of which contained plain water, and one of which was laced with heroin. The rats in scenario one who were isolated with nothing to do, frequently drank from the water laced with drugs. They did so frequently and obsessively, until they eventually overdosed and died. The rats in scenario two, however, they didn’t touch the heroin water, instead, they chose to opt for the plain alternative.
The results, as highlighted above, provide us with a very interesting insight into addiction, showing us how our environment can have a direct influence on our choice to either consume addictive substances, or to avoid them.
The study also shows how important it is for us to have a sense of purpose in our lives.
When we have something to do and can experience a sense of fulfilment for the way our life is heading, as the rats in scenario two could, we are less likely to resort to taking addictive substances such as drugs and/or alcohol. And, even if we do take something, we are significantly less likely to become addicted to it, because we have a reason to continue living a healthy life. We don’t feel the need to ‘numb out’ our troubles.
However, when we feel as though our life is ‘directionless’ and lacking in any real sense of purpose, we are more likely to become addicted to drugs/alcohol, using it as a sort of ‘crutch’, and providing us with what we perceive to be much needed ‘escapism.’
The key takeaway from ‘Rat Park’, is this; purpose and meaning are far stronger than addiction could ever be.
Therefore, to beat addiction, we need purpose. Why? Because purpose beats the power of drugs, alcohol, and even eating disorders.
Having purpose and meaning in our lives is not a ‘luxury’, it is a necessity.
If you’re interested in doing some further reading into the fascinating Rat Park experiment, you can find more information here: https://www.brucekalexander.com/articles-speeches/rat-park/148-addiction-the-view-from-rat-park.