Oh Rats! Addiction & the Mind.

This is and isn’t just about addiction because we can get addicted to anything. Yes of course there are the obvious things like eating, not eating, drinking, drugs, smoking, unhealthy thought processes, negative thinking……in fact whatever you do more of you will get better at!

And that’s why we can get addicted to our own emotions, old ways of thinking, our patterns, the way we are depressing ourselves or making ourselves anxious. It all comes back to neurological pathways. 

Rat Park experiment – I first read about the Rat Park experiment several years ago:- 

The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time the experiment was carried out, the rat would become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it killed itself.  And that is exactly where the well known theory of addiction comes from.  The theory was: Once someone is hooked, they’re hooked and there is no getting them off it. 

A different kind of thinking – A second scientist revisited the experiment, rerunning the early experiments, where the rats were left alone, and became compulsive users of the drug. Then he took them out of isolation, and placed them in Rat Park. He wanted to know, if you fall into that state of addiction, is your brain hijacked, so you can’t recover? Do the drugs take you over? What happened is—again—striking. The rats seemed to have a few twitches of withdrawal, but they soon stopped their heavy use, and went back to having a normal life. The good cage saved them!

Same water bottles – And of course it also has the exact same two water bottles, one with water and one with drugged water. But here’s what’s fascinating: In Rat Park, they don’t like the drugged water. They hardly use it. And if one does it has a little sip and then drinks the normal water again…

None of them overdose. Not a single one! None of them use the drugs that in a way that looks like compulsion or addiction…! 

Remember, they are rats with not a lot of reasoning and forward thinking going on there!

Two old models and both are wrong. There used to be two main theories of addiction and he proved both of them to be wrong: 

One theory is that any addiction is a moral failing. Addicts are weak, they just love partying too hard, they are hedonists etc. The other theory is that it’s an illness, that the addiction just takes one over, the brain is hijacked, they are a victim.

Thanks to Rat Park we now know that it is neither. It’s not your bad morals, nor is it your brain…it’s your cage.

You have adapted with negative behaviours to a negative environment. 

Yes, we can blame society, we can blame social media, we can blame TV and marketing and the rats.

Yes, we have created a disconnected consumer culture, we are all isolated individualists. We are not connected in a real sense anymore and we are a long way from Human Park. 

The opposite of addiction is not sobriety but creating a meaningful life. Finding things you love doing. Creating connections. Exchanging ideas. Laughing. Trying a new sport or hobby. Climb a new mountain.

Unfortunately our whole society, our economy and marketing is rigged to make us connect with things, not with people. 

Of course we were trained from a young age to focus our hopes, dreams, and ambitions, to even attach our sense of self worth to materialistic things. I understand this. Hopefully you understand too now. Once you see it, you cannot unseen it.

Spend your time connecting with people and fun things to do.

Build your own version of the Rat Park, get addicted to living life and do whatever it takes to get out of your negative habits! 

Start now.