by Audrey Hollingshead
I don’t even know where to begin. I have tried opening this with another fictional situation. I have tried opening this with a line like “Whether we have lived it or lived with it we all know addiction is hard.” I have even tried jumping right into the studies and forgoing the intro all together. But it all seems so fake-untruthful, and if there is one thing I know about addicts (and the loved ones of them), they can smell fake like dogs smell fear. They know when someone is not being “real” with them. So let me be real with you:
I have an alcoholic mother that I love. Every time we visited her in whatever rehab she happened to be in we were lectured on what addiction was. It was a disease. It was inherited. It was gene activated through horrible stress and depression. I began to see myself as some sort of expert on the subject. I knew the results of the famous drug studies, and they ALL said the same thing: Drugs are SO addicting that even one try gets people hooked. That’s it. One single try. Middle school echoed this notion in health class and I soon believed that hard drugs could steal your life without much effort.
Until now. For the first time in decades I am starting to understand that addiction is not so hopeless. The reason that many like my mother have a hard time getting over their addictions may have MORE to do with what they were dealing with BEFORE they became addicted then their addictions themselves. But before we delve into these hopeful revelations let us first look at one of the most infamous studies that fostered the “One hit to hooked” mentality.
B. F. Skinner (March 20th, 1904-Agust 18th 1990) is a famous Psychologist, behaviorist, author and inventor. He’s most known for studying positive and negative reinforcements and invented an operant conditioning chamber dubbed The Skinner Box. Inside The Skinner Box there is a loudspeaker, light, food dispenser, lever, and an electrified floor to punish the animals (usually rats or pigeons) in study.
In an article Cracked.com linked me to experimental psychologists decided to use The Skinner Box to test out how addicting hard drugs really were. They fixed it so the rats would be tethered to the box while a needle was permanently stuck in their jugular vain that could inject drugs any time the rats wanted by pressing a lever. The rats pushed the lever often, which prompted the study authors to conclude exactly what we hear everyday. Drug addiction happens fast. But not every psychologist saw it that way.
Bruce K. Alexander ( December 20th 1939-) was an experimental psychologist in the 60s and hated how the rats in most studies were treated. They were given little food, or no food at all. Their metal cages were also isolated them from other rats. This, he thought, might have been main fault in the earlier drug studies. So he, along with fellow colleague’s, conducted a new one at Simon Fraser University.
This study was completely different from the ones before it. Instead of putting all rats in boxes, he only put in half. The other half got to live in what became known as Rat Park. Instead of being the small and constrictive, this wooden park had many wings filled anything a rat could dream of. There was ample food, naptime areas, cans to hide and play in, exercise wheels, and wood shavings to shuffle around. The only thing these two environments had in common was easy access to meth. The results? Isolated rats consumed MUCH more morphine then those who got to run free. This prompted Alexander to conclude that it’s NOT drugs that make the addict-it’s the environment. And this isn’t the only study to conclude so.
According to another article Cracked.com linked me to, not everyone who tries drugs becomes addicted. In fact, only small portions of those who continually use become addicted. How is this possible? Lets look at Colombia University psychologist Carl Hart. Hart grew up around addiction and was determined to find a cure. So he put an ad in the Village Voice saying he’d pay addicts 950 dollars to smoke government grade crack as long as they lived in the study’s hospital.
They’d start each day blindfolded while a nurse gave them a portion (that varied from day to day) of crack. The researchers watched through a two-way mirror as they smoked up. They would get more chances to toke throughout the day, but with a twist. Instead of just handing over more crack, they gave them a choice: another hit, or five dollars they could use when they left. The results: Those that were given large amounts of crack asked for more. Those that got little opted for the cash. What’s amazing is that Hart replicated the study with meth users and got pretty much the same results- even more so when the choice of five dollars shot up to twenty.
So what does this mean exactly? And how can this new research help addicts? By showing them they are not slaves to their addictions. People like my mother don’t drink and use because OF their addictions. They drink and use to ESCAPE their problems. Problems so huge they feel like drugs are the only option. But they don’t have to be!
Addiction CAN be over come! How? By confronting the issues that lead them to addiction in the first place. They have to realize that drugs aren’t the answer and then, with the help of a strong support group, face the problems that made them think they were. It’s not easy, but it is possible!
Dream Well! Dream Positive!
Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jb-london/10227588043