The war on drugs saw a lot of propaganda, based on a very narrow experiment that did not take into account many important variables. What seemed like the logical conclusion, that drugs created a physical dependency, an addiction that would require serious drug treatment therapy to overcome, if you ever overcame it.
The Original Experiment
The well-known experiment used a single rat in a drag cage by itself. It was given two water sources, one that was just water and the other containing a hard drug, such as cocaine. Over time the rat would only drink the water with the hard drug until it eventually died, apparently from addiction.
Questioning the Experiment
Bruce Alexander, a Canadian Psychology professor in Vancouver, made a few changes to the experiment to see if changes in the rats’ environment made a difference. Rats did not live by themselves, but had several other rats with them.
The environment was called a Rat Park, and it contained toys, tunnels, and better food. Initially, the rats drank from both sources that were provided, but over time all of the rats in the environment shunned the drugged water.
Other Studies and Conclusion
Further connections were made to similar situations for humans. About 95% of Vietnam soldiers who used heroin like “chewing gum” while in Vietnam during the war did not continue their use once they returned home.
Likewise, patients in hospitals who use a legal form of heroin do not continue to need the drug once they are discharged from the hospital.
Based on Alexander’s experiments and the attention given to real-world scenarios, addiction is more about environment than physical addiction.
The best drug treatment therapy is reconnecting those who are addicted to a world in a more positive environment.