A forgotten experiment conducted in 1978 showed that an unpleasant environment is one of the primary causal factors of addiction
By John Vibes
BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA (INTELLIHUB) — A long forgotten experiment showed the profound impact that someone’s environment has on their possibility of becoming uncontrollably addicted to drugs. The name of the experiment was “Rat Park”. The experiment hoped to show the effect that someones life and surroundings has on their level of drug use. The study sought to show how there are underlying psychological issues and environmental conditions that play a significant role in someones path to addiction.
The researchers built a rat colony (Rat Park), which was 200 times the size of a normal laboratory cage, which housed between 16 – 20 rats of both sexes. The researchers wanted to show how rats in captivity handled addiction, in comparison to those who were in much more comfortable environments. There were two groups of rats in the study. There were the rats in Rat Park, who had a lot of room and many options for entertainment and another group of rats that were in very confined and restricted conditions.
The rats in Rat Park had previously been administered only morphine hydrochloride for 57 consecutive days in a laboratory cage however once in a less distressing environment they still did not continue consuming the opioid solution. Subsequent experiments where rats were kept in cold cramped cages showed that they were far more likely to consume the morphine solution than the rats in Rat Park.
Rat Park was a study into drug addiction conducted in the late 1970s (and published in 1980) by Canadian psychologist Bruce K. Alexander and his colleagues at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada.
Alexander’s hypothesis was that drugs do not cause addiction, and that the apparent addiction to opiate drugs commonly observed in laboratory rats exposed to it is attributable to their living conditions, and not to any addictive property of the drug itself. He told the Canadian Senate in 2001 that prior experiments in which laboratory rats were kept isolated in cramped metal cages, tethered to a self-injection apparatus, show only that “severely distressed animals, like severely distressed people, will relieve their distress pharmacologically if they can.”
To test his hypothesis, Alexander built Rat Park, an 8.8 m2 (95 sq ft) housing colony, 200 times the floor area of a standard laboratory cage. There were 16–20 rats of both sexes in residence, an abundance of food, balls and wheels for play, and enough space for mating and raising litters.:166 The results of the experiment appeared to support his hypothesis. Rats who had been forced to consume morphine hydrochloride for 57 consecutive days were brought to Rat Park and given a choice between plain tap water and water laced with morphine. For the most part, they chose the plain water. “Nothing that we tried,” Alexander wrote, “… produced anything that looked like addiction in rats that were housed in a reasonably normal environment.” Control groups of rats isolated in small cages consumed much more morphine in this and several subsequent experiments.