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The Likely Cause of Addiction (huffingtonpost.com)
37 points by jwdunne on Feb 8, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 15 comments

Rat Park, yes. The experiment is widely misreported, and the Wikipedia article doesn't really help.

Getting a rat in a rat colony addicted to opiates isn't easy at all, opiates taste so disgustingly bitter that rats just won't touch them. I think they had to go up to 20 % sugar and even then the animals preferred to be thirsty. Some went so far as not to touch the sugar/opiate solution at all and found it better to die of thirst. Contrary to popular opinion/Wikipedia, Rat Park wasn't paradise.

The other thing is that opiates don't help rats being rats. Anyone who has ever interacted with rat knows they are curious and social animals, they like to explore, fight and have sex. Nothing you can do while high on opiates. From this angle you'd almost predict that a rat might not like to be addicted to opiates. The experiment actually confirms the hypothesis.

Now alcohol on the contrary - it doesn't taste quite as awful, you can have much fun being drunk, have barfights and drunk sex, as Friday night in a British city center confirms, and it works just as well with rats as with humans. The follow-up experiments have been made. No rat ever voluntarily gave up booze.

So what you're suggesting is simply that alcohol addiction has different underlying causes than opiate addiction?

If so, that doesn't undermine the whole of the article's point; it merely suggests that the best policy for getting people off opiates isn't necessarily the best for dealing with alcoholism. The "Drug War" isn't a war on alcohol, after all.

> The other thing is that opiates don't help rats being rats. Anyone who has ever interacted with rat knows they are curious and social animals, they like to explore, fight and have sex.

Sounds pretty human to me.

This article is weak on many levels.

"I learned it from an extraordinary mixture of people I met on my travels." Is this more credible than modern science?

"It is now one hundred years since drugs were first banned" is incorrect. There have been laws in the U.S. against some drugs since the 1860's, and various laws in Europe and the Middle East for a few hundred years.

Even the headline, "The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered..." is faulty in that it implies there is only one cause for any addiction.

Even without the causation argument, this article is largely empty of credible science. It's disappointing to see this type of pseudo-science on HN.

I very much like to see this type of pseudo-science on HN. I read the article a few weeks ago and was pretty iffy about it, but I didn't really have a venue to converse about it. The comments that are already here, yours included, have got some cogs turning in my brain and I see some good thought and discussion to be had about the article.

Rat park is an interesting idea that is certainly compelling but in no way concrete. Follow up studies have failed to replicate the results, which doesn't mean it's wrong, but does mean it warrants a lot more work before deciding that environment/isolation is the primary driver of drug addiction in rats, much less humans.

Previously discussed on HN: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7742950

Follow up study failing to reproduce results: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9148292?dopt=Abstract

This rings really true to me. I was heavily addicted to drugs as a teenager (went through rehab, etc). I now realize it was due almost entirely to a miserable, abusive home life and crushing boredom. I'm now an adult in my 30s with a family and I haven't touched a drug since I was ~18 years old. I drink socially but don't enjoy getting drunk, nor do I have any desire to "get wasted" like I used to crave so much.

While I believe personality has a lot to do with it (maybe the "cage" is your own head for some people?), the environment is critical. Teenagers in particular are prone to this because they're essentially adults mentally, but have little freedom, autonomy or respect from the rest of the world.

I'm not prepared to debate the science, but the human connection (or rat connection I guess) account is only one way to look at it. Another is that what the rats needed was an enriched environment, with anything to do other than take drugs. Enriched environments loom large in a lot of psych, development, and neuroscience research.

This certainly accords with sub-acute 'addictive' behaviors in my own life -- there are no more horrific episodes of binge-eating, drinking, and general shitty life decisions as when I'm at odds and ends, sitting around the house, with nothing to do, or nothing I feel like doing. Which has implications, in the internet age, of what it means to be an enriched environment.

This folk psychology also dovetails with one of the article takeaways -- throwing people in jail where all they can do is rot is unlikely to do anybody much good in the long run.

I want to believe, and maybe do to a large extent, however, I have read many accounts of people getting addicted to opiates after hospital treatment, which this article denies. I saw it happen with my friend's ex-girlfriend's brother.

Perhaps, in this model, their lives were already without sufficient human connection. And I think there's a lot of merit to the concept of "better alternatives result in fewer addicts." I just want to register some counter-evidence to the all-cheery picture presented here.

Let's also not forget that there's a bunch of rewiring that goes on in the brain when someone becomes addicted to drugs, gambling, alcohol, or whatever it is. 'Unwiring' that change is really difficult and can take a very long time.

So I think the key takeaway from the article is this: addiction is not just about the chemical hook, there's a social angle that's generally underestimated. But doesn't mean we should forget about the (1) chemical hook and (2) neurological changes that happen when someone becomes addicted.

I agree this article is weak. There is no discussion on the mechanism of addiction. Science is well aware of the role of environment on addiction. The environmental "trigger" prompts the user to use. Change the environment, remove the trigger, you won't use. It's very hard to remove triggers, hence addiction is a difficult problem to solve.

"While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did."

This thesis probally has a lot of validity. That said, I have meet a lot if people with seemingly good lives who drink like there's no tomorrow? Plus, they have the disposable income to buy harder drugs without resorting to crime--diverting being caught, and identified.

Personally, I think we have been conditioned to believing addiction is a disease and there's no hope unless you go to Rehab, or if you are poor--"You must go to AA!".

I feel media, and even a lot if MD's have made getting off drugs, including alcohol; a lot harder than it is in reality. I give a pass to most MD's because they were taught that patients lie about how much of a drug they are using. (You tell a doctor you are drinking 750 ml bottle of wine a night, they are doubling the amount in their minds--so they don't even want to take the risk of telling you that you can titrate yourself off the drug.)

I know getting off drugs is hard; I just don't know how hard it is. The damage, or thoughts have already been engrained in the psyche of most people. I'm not sure how they can properly(controlled, double blind, etc., honest) study the problem, or if their is a problem.

For myself, I was a heavy drinker. My doctor flat out told me "don't fuck with it--going off without medical oversight is extremely dangerous. Well I wasen't going to spend the last of my savings on an expensive rehab, so I kept drinking. I finally got to the point where I really wanted to stop. I decreased the amout I was drinking by roughly 10% every two days and eventually became a non-drinker. In my case it worked. Maybe, I got lucky?

One other antidotal story. My best friend died from COPD. He smoked 2-3 packs of cigs for 50 plus years. We used to watch tv together and see those commercials equating stopping smoking to quitting Heroin and just watched in silence. I gave up asking him to quit. I even bought him cigarettes when he was to sick to buy them himself--because if I didn't he would drag himself to the store and buy them himself--huffing, etc. (I'm not proud about picking up his cigarettes.) Well one day, we decided together he would stop. Actually--I told him I'm done--you need to stop. Day 1 (slight cravings). By day 3, or 4--he called me up and literally said, "I was so easier than I thought. Not stopping sooner was the biggest mistake of my life." It was too late, but his COPD got slightly better, and he lived another 5 decent quality years.

There's a quote by Burroughs and it pops into my mind weekly--I wonder how much truth it holds?

William Burroughs, who spent two decades on heroin, said that “getting off drugs is not all that difficult. It’s vastly exaggerated—only a month, whatever method is used, a slow withdrawal or whatever, and they’re going to be out of the woods.”

Didn't make it past the 1st sentence. Any article that begins with "It is now one hundred years since drugs were first banned" is going to be so full of similar misinformation that I'm surprised the author hasn't embarrassed himself to death. From the comments, I see that I'm not wrong. Rat park, though, is a really interesting story.

Dopamine is the culprit

For anyone unfamiliar with the author, I should point out that Johann Hari has a long history of plagiarism and fabrication. He has also admitted to using a sockpuppet account to edit his own Wikipedia entry and those of other journalists. There are continuing doubts over his ethics, and I would question the integrity of any organisation willing to publish his work.


He did a lot of stupid things when he was younger. It doesn't discredit his current work.

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