Connection is the Answer to Addiction
In June 1971, US President Richard Nixon declared a “War on Drugs.” He dramatically increased the size and presence of federal drug control agencies, and pushed through measures such as mandatory sentencing and no-knock warrants. John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s counsel and Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs, was quoted about the President’s state of mind when declaring this war. “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.”1
Almost every US President since Nixon has used the “War on Drugs” as a political tool. In the meantime, the drug war has taken a toll on our country between billions of dollars wasted, lives lost to drugs in Latin America and in the US and well as millions of those incarcerated due to drugs and disenfranchised for the rest of their lives. The drug war has gone beyond affecting sub groups within the US population. In the 21st century, it has infiltrated the mainstream. Every type of neighborhood has been touched from teenagers to the elderly. The war’s dire consequences have brought everything we know about treating drug addiction into question. Many average Americans are just trying to live an honest life but have gotten out of touch with reality. Is incarceration the best way to solve addiction? Of course, there are drug treatment/substance abuse programs and facilities as well. In the US, some are state sponsored and some are private and/or religious institution backed. The programs and their costs vary from place to place and from state to state. Many never get any treatment and are sent away as 90 percent of people that most need drug rehab do not receive it.2
It doesn’t seem to matter since there’s not much of a success rate for US drug treatment programs. Even if the treatment plan had been completed, many times less than a quarter of patients remained sober after five years.3 If that’s the case, what are these American treatment programs missing?
A Canadian psychologist, Bruce K. Alexander, and his colleagues at Simon Fraser University tested his hypothesis that drugs do not cause addiction. He and his colleagues developed a series of studies in the late 1970’s called, “Rat Park” and actually built a large housing colony, 200 times the floor area of a standard laboratory stage. There were 16-20 rats of both sexes in residence, food, balls and wheels for play and enough space for mating. The studies concluded that the apparent addiction to opiate drugs commonly observed in laboratory rats is attributable to their living conditions and not to any addictive property of the drug itself.4
Unfortunately, these studies did not go far although they were published in peer-reviewed psychopharmacology journals in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In turn, Alexander and his colleagues lost their school’s funding so they moved on to other projects. Within the last thirty years, some of the basic findings were replicated and extended by researchers in other laboratories but none of this translated into changing the US professionals’ official view of handling addiction.
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Copyright © 2019 by Kimberly Schwender