it’s got nothing to do with a better rat cage

nugget

So a friend posted this, The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think. 

I read it, a few times, and while it is not completely without merit and makes some valid points, it is an oversimplification of a complex disease, and ultimately draws conclusions and makes generalizations from limited data.

I completely agree that the way we treat addicts, that the ‘war on drugs’ only contributes to the problem.  Criminalization and incarceration simply do not work. I do not agree that simply by making a better rat cage we can prevent or treat drug addiction.

The “Rat Cage” experiment was this. 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 you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself. The conclusion was that once exposed to the drug the rat became addicted and then ultimately died from the addiction. There are different versions of this test, another, perhaps more relevant, experiment involved direct stimulation of the rat’s pleasure center in the brain when the rat pressed a bar. Here the rat would neglect  activities such as eating or drinking to press the bar, and ultimately died.

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Addiction is caused by a combination of several things that basically can be divided into three categories, drug use, stress, and genetics. It is a combination of these three things that will  cause addiction. This is why some people can use without becoming addicted (no genetics, and/or little stress), and why some become addicted with only a small amount of use (strong genetic component, high stress).

Addiction happens when the combination of these factors trigger a reaction in the brain that causes a shift in neurotransmitter activity.

Don’t believe me? Watch This  

Back to the article. They made a nicer rat cage, with rat balls, rat toys, other rats and the rats in there didn’t want the drugs anymore. Interesting right? Then they correlated this with Vietnam soldiers who used heroin and came home and didn’t need it anymore. In other words they left the lonely rat cage for the nicer one and the need for drugs went away. The point the author keeps coming back to is that drugs don’t hijack the brain and cause addiction, that disconnection does, and here is where I have the problem.  Addiction changes the brains neurochemistry, addiction in the form of alcohol, drugs, or behaviours such as gambling, food, or sex. It is when this shift happens addiction occurs.

The danger of articles like this is that the implication is that if only you had a better rat cage your loved one would not have become addicted. If there had been connection, beauty, and nice rat toys addiction would not have happened. That is the family’s fault that addiction happened, if only they had done a better job. If only. 

If only. Words that have echoed through my head for the last five years. If only I had done more, done things better. If only I had done this or that, or not done this or that. If only breaks your heart. Articles like this make me angry, because my son had a fantastic fucking rat cage, and he still became an addict. He had support, he had early, early intervention (in grade school through high school), he had mentors, social peer groups, doctors, a family that loved and supported him, and he still became an addict.

And yes, we did make him leave our home, I let my own son live on the streets and in homeless shelters, that doesn’t mean I ever stopped loving him. I wrote about that here and here and here and here and so many more times.

The rat cage, the sad empty one that makes the rats want the drugs, that’s not an addict’s home life, that’s an addicts thinking.

The rat cage is their thinking.

There is no easy fix for someone’s thinking. It’s hard, heartbreaking work, and sometimes to be able to do this work, you have to get to a very bad place so you are motivated enough to want to change. I know this because I have done the work, I have been to that dark cold place inside me and I have crawled out of it.

We need to stop blaming the victim, blaming the family, they have been through a hell that you cannot imagine, and to say that addiction happened because of a lonely rat cage is unacceptable, short sighted and heartless.

And yes, I am angry. I’m angry that there are people who care more about how this makes them look than about helping people who need it.  That people who should  be a foundation of support, are defensive and outraged that I would even have this conversation. That people would rather be angry with me than examine why I keep talking about this.

Micheal Lee comes as close to showing what this has been like for me as a person in long term recovery, and what is like to love someone suffering from addiction. He does it in 2 minutes. I have been talking for years and it still seems like no one really hears me.

one more, if you want to see a simple, but very clear representation of addiction

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