What happens when you give rats water laced with morphine? Researcher Bruce Alexander did exactly this and found that after one or two hits, rats maniacally press levers to get narcotic laced water. This is not very surprising, we know that drugs are addictive due to the rush of good feeling hormones that rush our brains after a hit. But what Bruce Alexander wanted to know is how he could make the rats stop pushing the lever? Looking at the rats in the cages, you can’t help but think that you would want drugs too if you were in there. So, Alexander thought, what if we build them an amazing rat park? If we gave them an amazing environment, would they still be as inclined to drug themselves?
Alexander and his teams then built an amazing rat park with wood chip floors, wheels, plenty of food and water, toys and lots of space. Then when they gave rats the morphine-water choice the majority of rats picked the plain water over the drugged water! Even when they put rats already addicted to morphine in the rat park, the rats switched to plain water. The rats willingly endured the withdrawal effects because of they were happier in their environment.
I think there are a lot of lessons we can take from this experience for teens today. Environment plays a huge role in drug addiction. Some of these studies have even been replicated for humans and they have also found that a bad environment greatly increases someones choice of heroin over kool aid and it is the opposite effect for a positive environment. What is the equivalent of rat park for teens? I think it means a calm and comfortable home, schools that take care of their grounds, outdoor activities in nature and having a fun and engaging peer group.
Ask your teens if they think they live in ‘rat park’ or ‘rat cages’–how can your family work to make your environment happy?
This is part of our Science of Family series. If you would like to read more articles on the scientific research and studies behind relationships, families and teens, please visit our Science of Families page for tips and updated research.
Barry L. Alexander, et al., “Effect of early and Later Colony Housing on Oral Ingestion of Morphine in Rats,” Pharmocology, Biochemistry and Behavior 15 (1981).