Addiction is a pervasive problem in the world, and has been for centuries.  Countless treatments for it have been developed over the years.  Most treatments have involved punishments (jail, ostracism) or religion (Alcoholics Anonymous).  Newer treatments have focused on triggers and coping mechanisms (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy CBT).  The concepts of triggers and coping came to popularity in the last century with the rise of Behaviorism and the idea that all that is important are the observable stimulus and response.  A little later, the Cognitive movement added that idea that the mind plays an important role as a mediator between stimulus and response.  That included looking at things like schemas and core beliefs.

A lot of our thinking on addiction (from a treatment perspective) is held over from Behaviorism.  The behaviorists loved rats…or at least they loved subjecting rats to an extreme range of stimuli and measuring their responses.  Many of the animal studies involved rewards based on sugar water, food, or drugs.  These were easy to measure and dispense and very rewarding for the rats.  Cocaine was used as a reward in some studies.  The researchers soon noticed that the rats would take cocaine (and leave food) until they died from starvation.

One assumption that the scientists made is that rat behavior and human behavior would be closely related. So naturally they concluded that humans, once exposed to drugs, would likewise prioritize drug use over all other rewards, including food and socializing.  Humans, they believed, were powerless over drugs.  When they looked for this in the world, they seemed to see it everywhere.

The problem is that we are neither rats nor isolated in cages.  Later experiments were performed with rats not confined to solitary cages, but placed in large enclosures and in social settings.  What the researchers found was surprising.  The rats socialized, played, ate their food and they left the cocaine alone.  This challenged the current thinking on the nature of addiction.  Perhaps rats (and humans) would be able to forgo drugs in the correct context, one that is socially stimulating and rewarding.  Just maybe, a big piece of the cure for addiction is social connectedness.

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