Bruce Alexander and Rat Park

The findings of Alexander’s experiments raise questions about the common understanding of addiction and how to handle it. Alexander’s experiments with Rat Park showed flaws in the original rat experiments that provided much of the evidence for our common ideas about addiction. He demonstrated that socially deprived rats medicated themselves, often to death, with drugs. However, he also showed that when rats were given a natural environment, with distractions and other rats with which to interact, they chose to abstain from drug use. Even rats that were drug dependent for 57 days chose to suffer withdrawal symptoms and become sober when given the opportunity in Rat Park.

The experiments call into question the current system for managing drug use and addiction. They help to explain why drug wars that further isolate people in cages result in a revolving door system of drug offenders. If drugs are something people bond with in place of human connection, if the problem is not addiction, but instead the cage that addicts live in, then our system for dealing with addiction is destined to fail. Alexander outlines the current Official View of Addiction. This paradigm sees addicts as people who cannot be cured, but only managed. It does not address why people abuse substances other than genetic predispositions, or chronic, relapsing brain disease. These assumptions minimize the ability to overcome addiction, and do not address psychological or environmental factors. Alexander suggests that the Dislocation Theory of Addiction better explains addiction, and that like rats, humans who reconnect with society would naturally stop using.

The struggles with the current view of addiction are demonstrated throughout The Wire. Drug users and dealers are written off by most as lost causes. There is little to no focus on solving the drug problem. This phenomenon is embodied in the character Bubbles, a crack addict who struggles with sobriety and a sense of belonging. Simon mentioned in one of his interviews that the drug war is pointless. He suggested that our society would be better off decriminalizing drugs and using the money to rehabilitate addicts, and reconnect them to society by giving them a sense of purpose. While this sounds radical, according to the article by Hari, it was put into place in Portugal and was very effective. The top drug cop in Portugal was initially against the move for various reasons, but he later admitted that none of his dire predictions about legalization had come to pass. This is enlightening information and seems to suggest that other countries with similar problems, including the United States, would benefit from the decriminalization of drug use.



  1. Amanda · October 9, 2015

    I was very impressed with the results Portugal had when they decriminalized drugs and used the money for rehabilitation purposes. The Wire does a great job of showing the effort the police put into the criminals in charge of and using drugs and it’s poor effect on the community.


  2. larriannebaiza · October 9, 2015

    I enjoyed reading this post. The war on drugs is such a complicated matter and one that needs to be readdressed. Our society fails to take in the whole picture when analyzing drug addiction and tend demonize those who fall into addiction. My only hope is that through this we’re able to challenge our own thinking on the war on drugs and we’re able to work toward a solution that takes multiple reasons, such as Alexander’s experiment, into consideration.


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