Rat Park, the famous study used to explain the way addiction functions and has become the basis of much modern academic and popular understanding of addiction, is ‘flawed’, according to modern research.
The Rat Park experiment claimed that environment is the key factor in drug addiction, rather than, as was thought at the time, drugs themselves and questionable moral fiber.
The experiments stayed relatively under the radar during the ‘War on Drugs’ era.
Writing in The Outline, Katie MacBride states: “The Rat Park experiment provides seemingly perfect evidence to explain why the War on Drugs is such a failure, because its policies focus on drugs as the source of the problem.
“While the failure of the War on Drugs is virtually undisputed among experts in the field of addiction — though sadly not represented by significant changes in policy, as drug offenses are the single biggest factor contributing to booming incarceration numbers — [Rat Park’s] emphasis on the user’s environment was novel and presented obvious implications for drug policy.”
After the initial discovery of addiction as the result of a hollow or violent environment, the notion was taken further to the now famous notion of addiction as the result of a lack of connection with other human beings.
The problem is, as MacBride writes: “When scientists tried to replicate the Rat Park study, they got mixed results.
“In 1996, a study attempted to precisely replicate the conditions in Alexander’s Rat Park, down to the breed of rat.
“The researchers conducted two experiments… Neither experiment reflected the Rat Park’s results, which had the isolated rats drinking up to seven times the amount of the morphine liquid as the social rats.”
One other obvious flaw is that rats, though sharing a similar makeup, aren’t human.
The reason, MacBride argues, we are still utilizing an outdated model is chiefly due to the effect of the War on Drugs.
Because the War on Drugs viewed drugs as simply bad and addictive, Rat Park has been the way to counter that claim.
However, modern research is showing that both models have flaws.