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The Real Cause of Addiction
October 16, 2015
Yeah yeah we all know or have read that things like peer pressure, social environments, availability of addictive substances, curiosity, lack of awareness, genetic makeup, amount and rate at which pleasure is provided by substances, duration and repetition in use of substances etc are the cause of addiction. And it’s true, these factors can promote the involvement in addictive substances or behavior and hence increases the chance of becoming addict upto some extent. But have you ever wondered why all those who use addicting substance or get involved in addicting behavior don’t end up becoming addict like some few. For example, people eat food daily and have sex, but they all don’t become addicted to overeating or unhealthy sexual behavior. Many people enjoy drinking alcohol but they all don’t get addicted to it in the way some people get. In hospital, people are given drugs in the name of pain-killer during or after surgery, sometimes even for months. And these drugs aren’t like the one abused by addict but are in more pure form. But all those patients don’t end up becoming addict, well some does but majority of them stop using once they are healed.
So to understand this oddness, scientists have done many experiments. Some of them are:
In 1970s Canadian Psychologist Bruce K. Alexander and his colleagues at Simon Fraser University conducted the experiment called Rat Park. In this experiment, rats were kept in two different types of cages, each cage containing plain water and sugar-sweetened morphine water. Morphine is a kind of painkiller which can be addictive. First cage was small and ordinary, accommodating only single rats but second was large, accommodating many rats and contained toys, best foods and other rats to hangout and have sex with, due to this second cage was also called Rat Park, it was a kind of paradise for rats. It was found that, rats that were kept alone in ordinary cages consumed far more morphine than rats in the Rat Park. He also said that, rats in Rat Park chose morphine water mainly because of sweet taste of sugar instead of morphine itself. Again in another experiment, he forced rats in ordinary cages to drink only morphine water for 57 days without giving plain water. And then put those rats in Rat Park, allowing them to choose between morphine water and plain water. Even though they showed some minor sign of withdrawal, they happily drank plain water. Here what we can notice is, rats in ordinary cages were alone and had nothing to do, so they chose morphine water to deal with the loneliness, stress and boredom. But rats in Rat Park had opportunity to do many enjoyable things and they chose doing those things instead of drinking morphine water. Thus, it can be concluded that addiction and drug use not only depends on individual character but also how well their needs are being met.
There was also another study done. During Vietnam War large numbers of American Soldiers were deployed in Vietnam. In 1970s Researchers found that many of them were using heroin. The number was larger than the number of abuser back in USA. So, there was a huge panic within the USA about what to do with those soldiers. So, after the war ended, they were observed. But things didn’t happened as expected; as the soldiers returned home from such stressful and violent situations and started living a normal life, about 80% soldiers gave up using heroin within a year. And 12% who kept using had post traumatic stress disorder, unstable childhood, broken family or were already addict before going to war.
Maternal Separation Experiment:
Similarly researches done over various animals by Drs Michael Meaney, Darlene Francis, Paul Plotsky, T.A. Kosten suggests stress in early years of life was also found to increase vulnerability to addiction. Newly born pups were divided in three groups. First group of newly born pups (MS15 i.e. Maternal Separation for 15 minutes) were manually separated from their mother for 15 minutes a day. Another group of newly born pups (MS180) were manually separated for 3 hours a day. And third group of newly born pups (NH i.e. Non Handled) weren’t handled manually and left with their mother in normal condition. This process was carried out for beginning 2 weeks of their life and after that, they were all raised normally as other normal pups. When those pups became adult, MS180 pups were more reactive and vulnerable to drugs and alcohol addiction than MS15 pups whereas NH (Non Handled) pups were least vulnerable to addiction. Well this experiment explains, how stresses and adverse condition in early life can alter the behavior later in life and hence increases the one’s chance of becoming addict.
After reading above experiments and study, it don’t require a genius to conclude that emotional problem and stress are the major reason due to which people of lower class or street children becomes victim of addiction. But, since we are very quick at judging people, we don’t hesitate to blame their characters for getting addicted. But what we forget to notice is; that they represent the major group of people who are mostly neglected and discriminated by the society, even by government, who are major victims of abuse and trauma and whose even basic needs are not fulfilled. They lack opportunity to do or have things, which other people will easily have since birth. Hence, in order to mask these stress, lacks and pain, they rely on addictive substances. Some of them hates their life, so they don’t care even if their addiction is hurting or killing them and they generally overdose themselves.
As well as, we can also see some adults or young people suddenly increasing their substance abuse after major events in life, like loss of job or family member, being abandoned or cheated by partner or after heavy increase in responsibility. Some even starts their old bad habits, even if they had stayed clean for some time because of stress caused by these kinds of events. In these cases, they chose addicting activity with the expectation it will makes them feel good and give them relief from the stress and pain that followed after these major events. Moreover due to the stress their willpower was depleted and they were unable to make right decision.
Well, this whole article is focused on how stress and emotional problems are the major cause of addiction. No, person wants to become addict, one tries to reduce the addictive activity as soon as it starts to affect other aspects of his/her life. But stress makes it hard to ignore the temptation of quick relief provided by addictive activities. Stress is like hunger, the hunger for relief. We know, with the increase in hunger, the desire for food also increases and makes it look more tasty, stress on the other hand increases the desire for relief, especially relief provided by addictive activities and makes it look more promising. On the other hand stress decreases one’s will power to resist addicting behavior. Due to this, most people chose quick relief provided by the addictive activity rather than solving the main cause of stress which is generally more boring and tedious to do. Since the real problem doesn’t actually get solved, so stress keeps on emerging and hence the person tends to get involved in addicting behavior more frequently to mask his problem. And at the end, he becomes dependent or addict user.
But one very important thing to consider is someone who has never smoked cigarette, never drank alcohol or never used drugs will not suddenly start to smoke, start to drink or start doing drugs due to stress unless someone urged them to. I will like to give a simple example, I think everyone faces some minor or major stress in life, and I also face but when I face stress or get bored I will think about or love to get engaged in eating chocolate, noodles, watching Youtube videos or chatting in Facebook with friends rather than thinking about smoking cigarette, drinking alcohol or doing drugs. Simply, because I haven’t tried smoking, drinking or doing drugs, I haven’t experienced the short burst of pleasure (which addict admits experiencing) provided by them and some parts of me fears doing those activities due to fears of becoming addict, fears of destroying my health, my self-respect. So, those who never tries cigarette, alcohol or drugs are always little more safer from addiction of these substances even in the time of stress. I believe that’s the major benefit for those who never try smoking, drinking, gambling or doing drugs.
By the way there is always an exception, two children when grown in same family and same stressful situation may develop different personality one may turn into addict but another may become a good person. Well this makes sense to say, “Stress can either break or make a man.” But in most case, it breaks.