The current definition of addiction is that it is a a chemical dependency caused entirely by the way the body reacts to a certain substance. New studies, however, suggest that this may not be the case.
Johann Hari, author of “Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs,” believes it is a person’s environment that makes them an addict, rather than anything chemical.
Hari points to a 1980s anti-drug commercial in which a rat was placed in a cage with two water bottles. One contained pure water, while the other had water laced with heroin and cocaine. According to Elite Daily, the rat ended up becoming addicted to the second bottle and dying.
After studying the commercial, Vancouver Psychology Professor Bruce Alexander came to the conclusion that the rat did not continue drinking the drugged water because he wanted to. Rather, he did it because he was living life in a cage and had nothing else to do.
Alexander redid the experiment in a “rat park,” where he placed multiple rats in an area with distractions like toys and tunnels, as well as the two water bottles. The rats all had a little bit of the drugged water, but they didn’t become addicted to it. This led him to the conclusion that addiction is the result of environment instead of a chemical dependence.
Hari pointed out that the same thing happened with Vietnam veterans. 20% of them developed a heroin addiction while fighting in the war, but 95% of them were able to kick the habit when they returned home. Once the veterans were back in a happy environment, there was no reason for them to keep taking drugs.
In the end, Alexander says it’s the caliber of one’s “cage” rather than the our internal chemicals that determines addictions.