The only model of understanding addiction came to us through the group Alcoholics Anonymous. The majority of the general public saw alcoholism and drug addiction as moral failings, weaknesses of character, and the result of poor choices. AA was a start, framing alcohol addiction as a disease with certain signs, symptoms and a “cure” involving lots of group work. It worked for some.
Others like myself were not so fortunate. AA never stuck. I went to hundreds of groups over many years, worked through the steps, had some good sponsors. But I just couldn’t swallow all the Koolaid. Full commitment to AA smacked of joining a cult, and my mind just doesn’t work like that- I can’t blindly accept “truth”. I also felt that AA provided no real tools for transformation, tools I had already found in the transpersonal psychology movement- meditation, diet and exercise regimens, and most importantly vitamins and amino acids.
Our understanding of addiction is constantly evolving. A famous experiment in the 80’s gave rats a bar that distributed doses of cocaine, which they would choose to press repeatedly, often to the exclusion of other activities like eating and reproduction. Another experiment put a rat in a cage, alone, with 2 bottles of water, one drugged the other not. These rats almost invariably choose the drug water, becoming obsessed with it to the point where they overdose and kill themselves.
Then in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology at UBC in Vancouver, Canada, noticed that the experiments with the rats were flawed. He decided to build a rat paradise in a cage, called Rat Park, where the animals had access to all the things that make rats happy. Astonishingly, the drugged water was no longer an issue for rats who had a good life, with lots of social connections, rat play things and places to scamper. He also took it further, and introduced already addicted rats back into the “good cage” and they were able to easily shift back into normal rat life.
It looks like the predilection to addiction is caused by a lack of connection. This is a massive problem in our modern world, where people connect with machines for more hours a day than they do with other humans. We all need to get back to our “good cage” and connect with other human beings in deep, meaningful ways.