Rat Park: Addiction misunderstood
Johann Hari did a lot for the popularisation of the rat park experiment. This person’s now infamous Ted Talk flung open the conversation that perhaps, just maybe, addiction was not biological in origin. While this attempt to depathologise human experience was admirable, both sides of this argument miss a vital cornerstone that bridges so many gaps in our understanding of addiction.
Rat park suggested that the reason the rats preferred drug-laden water was because of the lack of a meaningful social environment. While I will argue that this certainly plays a role on the perpetuation of addictive behaviours, there is more to be considered.
There have been various retorts, but in my opinion, we need to discuss one thing in particular. We need to talk about trauma.
It doesn’t matter what kind of privilege you have in this world, trauma can set off a domino effect, leading you down a path towards addiction. I am yet to meet any addict who was not trying to hide from pain. Some might argue that not all addicts are traumatised, but I would respond by saying that we need to ditch the normative ideas of what trauma is.
Anything can be traumatic, trauma is relative to the Self, not the external observer.
So, yes, a lack of a meaningful social environment can play a big role in addiction, but I do not believe that is what pulls people into the grasp of active drug addiction. It is what keeps them feeling as though they have no way out. That in itself is a traumatic experience which leads to increased drug use.
This is why we need to constantly be aware of the structures and people that comprise our environments. These components are what scaffold us into active addiction. We respond to our environment, yes, but the factor from that environment that plays the largest role is trauma, not sociality.
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