In the late 1970s Bruce Alexander, a psychologist at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, developed a contentious hypothesis. In a global society which focused entirely on the role drugs played in addiction, Alexander looked instead at a different enemy: the environment.
At the risk of over-simplifying things, he believed drug use – and therefore addiction – was much less likely to be prevalent if people were given alternative choices to make. Unsurprisingly, the science community all but laughed at him.
But Alexander believed he was onto something and to prove it, he developed the Seduction Experiment based in something that came to be known as Rat Park.
Rat Park was a sensory environment 200 times the size of a laboratory rat cage. He filled it with all manner of diversionary objects and gave the rats housed there two water sources: one plain, one heavily laced with morphine.
Then he took four sets of weaned rats aged 22 days. One group lived in rat Park for the 58-day duration of the experiment and another group lived in a standard empty lab cage for the same period. A third group began life in Rat Park and moved to a cage at the age of 65 days while the fourth group started out in a standard cage and moved the opposite way at the same time.
The experiment was complex but, in essence, the rats that lived in the park for the whole period chose plain water over the morphine-laced water whilst the caged rats ultimately chose the morphine. Meanwhile, the morphine-dependant rats that moved from the cages to the park soon chose the plain water over the morphine and the Rat Park rats that moved into the bare cages eventually showed greater inclination to drink the morphine water.
What Alexander proved was that addiction had more to do with the external environment and the internal reaction to it than it did to the addictive substance itself.
The 21st Century version of Rat Park is to be found in America where young addicts are being encouraged to leave the streets and participate in gym programmes. The environment change frees them of addiction because they have something else to focus on. But if the cause of the addiction is not examined and relearnt in a positive way then as soon as the gym programmes stop then there is a high likelihood of relapse.
The key to understanding addiction is understanding your environment in the past, present and future. Take alcoholic addiction, for example, you weren’t born with a bottle of Jack Daniels in your hand, circumstances in your life led your brain to finding comfort and pleasure in the alcohol leading to the addiction taking control. Even though the addiction maybe slowing destroying your life there is often a deep, positive intent to it that needs to be explored and relearnt.
At Zoe Clews & Associates, our success rate in helping people get control of their lives from addiction is something we are extremely proud of. We understand that to overcome addiction you might need support not just from us, but from working in programmes and participating in group work and using us to reinforce the change in internal programming that led to the addiction. We are delighted to work with other therapies and programmes to help you move forward in your life and get back the control, rather than being the one who is controlled.
The way we work is to individually tailor the sessions to your needs and goals and this is achieved by incorporating a number of methodologies to release you from the prison of addiction. Many of our clients who used to have alcohol addictions can now sit happily drinking coffee in a bar with no desire to have an alcoholic drink.
Our past seriously affects our addictive response. If we grew up watching mum and/or dad having a few too many Martinis in the evening or Mum puffing her way through 20 cigarettes a day then we learn this as appropriate behaviour, so in times of stress the coping mechanism that we reach for is what we learnt from our parents.
And trauma, if not reconciled, leaves an emotional footprint of unmet needs – which in turn can prompt us to try to meet those demands in later life. This, in turn, can fast become an addiction.
So what can we learn?
To successfully treat an addiction permanently you have to turn to the mind and satisfy its unmet need, coping mechanism or learnt behaviour. The problem isn’t the substance, it’s the desire for it, and the methods used at Zoe Clews & Associates effectively deal with that desire so you can regain control over your life.