Happy Rats… No Addiction

Following up my recent post (7/26) about Denizet-Lewis’ NY Times Magazine article on scientific research and addiction… he reports on 2 more interesting studies…

First, the “happy rat” study…  The conventional wisdom is that addictive drugs are addictive – start and it’s a downhill slide.  One way drugs are tested for addictiveness is to give a drug-laced concoction to rats and see if they push those levers for more and more.  But a researcher in British Columbia thought it wasn’t so much the drugs, but the fact that lab rats are put in conditions that rats don’t like, and they use those drugs to escape.  In other words, the rats had “awful lives,” so preferred to be high.

He then built a rat paradise, which for rats means lots of room to run and play, toys to play with, access to outdoor areas, and buddies to play and cuddle with.  And guess what?  The happy rats didn’t drink a morphine cocktail, while control rats in regular (bad) conditions, slurped it up.

His conclusion was that if you live a life that you’d love to escape from, your risk of addiction is higher.  Rather than just taking a pill for your addiciton, you need to change your life to your version of paradise.  Sort of be happy … no addiction.

A second interesting study looked at gambling addicts’ and non-addicts’ brains with MRIs, while they played a simple card game with small prizes.  When non-addicts won a prize, their ventral striatum – a reward center of the brain – lit up, but nothing happened in this spot when gambling addicts won.  (Cocaine addicts had the same non-response to little rewards.)  So if you’re addicted, you don’t get the normal pleasure from rewards that other people like.  Researchers are looking to see if this dulling of the reward centers is a cause or effect of addiction.

So at least we’re getting past the idea that addiction is simply a moral problem, and just blaming the person that suffers is lessening.  We’ll look forward to more scientific progress in this area.

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