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Better Addiction Understanding for Better Drug Treatment

Stories of Hope: You Are Not Alone - Bergand Group

Are you familiar with the “Rat Pack” experiment done by Bruce Alexander in the 1970s-1980s?  Alexander, in trying to understand the complex science of addiction, placed a rat into a small cage with two water bottles: one with water and one with heroin-laced water.  The rat typically drank the latter until it died of overdose.  But, said Alexander, is that such a surprise?  The cage was small and offered nothing in the way of alternatives to the drug, such as other entertainment, space, or social options.  When he presented the same two bottles to a larger number of rats in a big cage with toys and other rats to interact with, the herion water was ignored, even by rats who had formerly been drinking the drugged water.  What did, and does, this mean for addiction-related research and drug treatment?

Social Connections to Keep Sober

It turns out that it means a lot, and despite the fact that this study was decades ago, countries haven’t changed their laws, regulations, and drug treatment in order to match the findings.  This excludes Portugal, who has actually decriminalized all illicit drugs and is seeing positive results.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that the success is simply because of the decriminalization: “addiction is not about the pleasurable effects of substances, it’s about the user’s inability to connect in healthy ways with other human beings. In other words, addiction is not a substance disorder, it’s a social disorder.”  Portugal’s win against addiction is a result of the money previously spent on incarceration being put toward social efforts to bring these people back into a community during drug treatment and to instill in them a feeling that they have something to live for.

It’s understandable that we as a society have misunderstood how addiction gets a hold of people, plays a role in their lives, and keeps them ensnared.  We think that the pleasurable reaction that comes about as a result of drug and alcohol use is the reason that people keep coming back for more, but this isn’t the case.  The rewards of social connection and feeling like part of a group are what the real search is for with the abused substances standing in as providers of those experiences when they aren’t (or don’t seem to be) available.  Connection during the period of drug treatment is the solution, the key to understanding the root of addiction and how best to combat it.  This connection “involves connecting the addict to other people. And not just any people, either. We’re talking about safe, supportive, reliable, empathetic people.”

Beginning to think of addiction as a “social disorder” rather than “substance disorder” is one of the first steps toward better understanding and more effective drug treatment and recovery.  The best approach is to observe what’s been done, whether it be in rodent-based experiments or passed laws in Portugal, and adjusting regulations to be better shaped toward their successes.

For more information on drug treatment in Harford County, get in touch with The Bergand Group. The Bergand Group is Maryland’s leading addiction recovery center, and offers support for those struggling with addiction and mental health issues.

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About The Bergand Group:

At The Bergand Group in Baltimore and Harford County, Maryland, our therapists have more than twenty years of experience in the mental health and addiction fields. Our focus is on providing comprehensive mental health care and appropriate care for addictive disorders. We offer both alcohol rehabilitation and drug rehabilitation. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol or substance addiction, there is help available. We also offer several other services, including family therapy and counseling. We can help. Contact us today.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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