A friend of mine recently forwarded me this article: The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think about this book: ‘Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs’
I read the article, and watched the TedTalk, and have yet to read the book (currently on request at the library). The article is about the causes of addiction and quotes a study called Rat Park conducted in the 1970s by Bruce Alexander PhD. (See the full study here). With out reproducing the whole article, essentially Dr. Alexander found out that rats addicted to cocaine or heroin living in a bare cage that were then transported to a cage with lots of activities, exercise, other rats to socialize with, good rat chow, basically a “Rat Park,” abandoned their addiction. Fundamentally, “he argues, addiction is an adaptation. It’s not you. It’s your cage.”
This idea really got me thinking, I already have a pretty broad view of addiction and think that it includes some of the numbing behavior we all do in varying degrees. Like, eating a few extra scoops of ice-cream, being glued to social media, binge watching TV that kind of thing. So I started to think about my “rat cage”, how decked out is it? Do I have enough enrichment and connection in my life right now? What can I do to improve my “cage” and how can I help other’s inspect their cages for areas that need improvement. Can we follow the trail of our adaptions (numbing out behaviors) to find out what healthy things we need more of?
Can it be as simple as noticing, “hmm I’m craving an unhealthy amount of macaroni and cheese right now, better book time with my friends”???
I’d like to think so, however, taking good care of ourselves is serious business and denial can be pretty powerful. It takes a degree awareness to notice how much influence our “cage” has on us, and then to act on that noticing and start engaging in small steps to help make our cages more enriched and our self care more at the forefront of our minds.
So I encourage you to look around your cage, are you spending quality time with the people in your life? Are you engaging in healthy positive pastimes that feed you? Do you feel connected or isolated? Are you engaging in a lot of numbing behaviour? If that is the case, don’t worry, you don’t have to fix your “rat cage” overnight, just think of one small step you might be able to take; text a friend, go for a walk, eat something healthy, spend 10 minutes engaged in a hobby you love. Then just keep doing one small step as often as you are able to transform your “rat cage” into “Rat Park.”
*Happy Pet Rat Photos courtesy of Shannon McKinnon