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Social Isolation & Addiction: What We Know About a Rat in a Cage

If you’re old enough to remember the Nancy Regan War on Drugs campaign, then you remember the research on addicted rats. If you’re young enough that the 1980s seems like the Dark Ages, here’s a brief explanation.

You take a rat. You put him in a cage. You give him self-administrative access to drug-laced water or food. And you watch. The rat quickly becomes addicted to the drug and stops doing the normal things rats do, things like eating and sleeping. The rat eventually dies due to either drug overdose or self-neglect.

These experiments soon lead to a steadfast understanding in addiction. Basically that once addicted, without intervention you don’t stop until you die. And for years, that’s what people believed.

But you know what?

Social Isolation

Being socially isolated can make you feel bad for yourself, which triggers substance abuse.

People are wrong.

While the rat in a cage experiments do give an insight into addiction, the experiments are fundamentally flawed. Like humans, rats are social creatures. In the wild, they live in large family groups and interact with others constantly throughout the day.

Now here’s where things get interesting.

Take that same rat, the one who’s addicted. And put him in a cage with other rats. Make sure there’s plenty of room and lots of fun things that rats like to do.

And you know what happens?

The obsessive addiction goes away. The rat starts interacting with his peers. He starts eating. Sleeping. Drinking plain water. And goes on to live a happily ever after rat life.

So what’s this mean?

Social Isolation Drives Addiction

While all the implications aren’t known, it’s obvious that social isolation not only drives addiction, but keeps people addicted. When there’s nowhere else to turn when life gets bad, people turn towards drugs. If you’re addicted to drugs and looking for a way to get sober, call 800-481-6320 today to find the immediate help that can save your life.

If you’re still skeptical, consider what happened during the Vietnam War. Heroin was ramped in Vietnam and American soldiers were not immune to it.

It’s estimated that nearly 20 percent of the soldiers stationed in Vietnam were addicted to heroin. Yet, once they returned home, there wasn’t a huge spike in heroin abuse in the states, nor was there a spike in the number of people admitted into drug and alcohol rehab. No. The majority of these men and women, some 95 percent, simply stopped using.

Now, yes, they probably went through withdrawal, and yes, it was uncomfortable, but the fact remains that these people, once returned to a healthy environment, got clean and stayed clean.

How to Provide Healthy Support to a Loved One in Recovery

Avoiding Isolation in Recovery

What happens to an isolated rat in a cage shows how important it is to avoid social isolation, especially in recovery. Addiction is isolation. Fight it by putting yourself out there. Have people in your life that you talk to every day.

Go to family events. Go to meetings. Just don’t stay home by yourself, day after day. Because if you do, soon you’re going to start feeling bad for yourself. Then those feelings turn into self-pity and self-disgust. And that drives you to use.

Don’t be the rat in the cage. Seek the help you need and do what it takes to remain sober. If you’re ready to embrace a life of recovery, call 800-481-6320 today to find the help you need.

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