What causes drug addiction? You’d probably answer drugs but the truth may be more surprising than you think.

If you take a rat in a cage and put two water bottles with him, one with pure water and one laced with cocaine, the rat will almost always prefer the drug-laced water and eventually die quickly by succumbing to his unnatural desires. That is the foundation of almost all the common people’s knowledge about drug addiction. This simple idea then evolves into a grueling thought, a thought so prevalent that it permeates to our media, our culture, and even our education – drug addicts are terrible and should be isolated from society so that they won’t influence other people. It begins as a simple stereotype – an over simplified idea of how a drug addict acts. Then this stereotype grows into a prejudice – a feeling of hatred and utter disgust of how they turn out. As this feeling binds our minds it develops to discrimination – actions that we do to create a distinction in between. This action compels us to separate then from society which creates chaos, violence and even death that leans towards claiming the lives of the poor and the marginalized.

In the 1970s, Bruce Alexander realized the flaw in that experiment – the rat was alone in an empty cage. Life was meaningless to these rats because they have nothing but the drugs to make them happy. This brilliant professor of psychology then created something which is basically heaven for rats and he called it Rat Park. It had loads of food, toys, and sex from other rats. Most especially the rat park had the same two bottles but, surprisingly, hardly any of the rats drank from the drug-laced water. What happened was there was a shift from almost 100% of the rats compulsively drinking the drug-laced water to almost 0% of them doing it. He concluded that meeting the deeper needs of an individual may reduce the tendencies of drug addiction.

Perhaps the reason why there is a catastrophic drug infestation in our country is because we have built a nation that does not meet the deeper needs of individuals. If we could give each individual the chance to meet all his needs then this wouldn’t be a problem at all. We can’t do that though because that’s the price of capitalism. In a free society there is no equality but do understand that in a truly equal society, there is no freedom at all. If we can’t make a Utopia then the best thing we can do is at least make it bearable for every individual so that they can be happy and contented.

The victims of this societal malediction are the poverty-stricken, the lower middle-class that struggles to keep afloat and the marginalized individuals. What is our response to this? We urge for more isolation for them. Social workers and other government programs are struggling to reintegrate them to society by giving them more opportunities to bounce back but we as a society continue to discriminate and hate them. We don’t employ them, we don’t befriend them and we even reiterate over and over the mistakes they have done in the past to remind them that he or she is a pile of muck and we are the pretentious and self-righteous clean white cloth.

It is time for us as a society to evolve. If we are to eradicate addiction, let us start by meeting the deeper needs of each individual. Let us ensure that everyone can get food, shelter, and most importantly harmonious connection with other people to develop love and esteem needs. It is also imperative that we emphasize removing the stigma, reintegration and reconnection because it is not just the chemicals that cause addiction, it’s the “cage” that we have built to isolate others. It is an arduous task but it is worth it because we are brilliant individuals meant to live together in peace.

Perhaps John Hari, author of the New York Times best-selling book “Chasing the Screams: The First and Last Days on the War on Drugs,” summed it up in perfectly in two sentences – “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.”

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