What If Everything We Think We Know About Addiction Is Wrong?

'It's not the chemicals, it's your cage.'

When we think about addiction, our first instincts are to blame the drugs and the people who choose to take them. But what if that approach to addiction was just hella reductive and, well, wrong?

A new video from In A Nutshell ( or "Kurzgesagt" which is "in a nutshell" in German) helps fill in the gaps and better explain all the complex ways addiction works -- with the help of some happy rats and some bomb-ass cartoons.

First off: There's the way heroin works. Sure, it is a drug that has majorly addictive qualities. Yet, it's also used (in a way fiercer form) in hospitals as a pain-killer -- diamorphine.


Yet, the video explains, we don't really have an issue with grannies regularly becoming addicts post hip-replacement -- And there's a few experiments from the early 20th century that help explain that.

While older experiments on addiction showed that isolated, caged rats would choose to consume heroin-laced water (rather than straight-up drinking water) over and over again until they died (#dark.)


Happy rats yielded very different results, a later study from Bruce Alexander in the 1970s found. He built a 'Rat Park,' a magical happy place for rats to eat, frolic and have sex at their will and gave them the same choice between the heroin water and the regular water. And they pretty much always stayed the f--k away from the heroin water and lived their best lives.


Studies after the Vietnam war (where 20 percent of American soldiers were using heroin) also showed that majority of humans were also able to drop the habit once they came back home. But, why?

It has a lot to do with their environments and ability to form human connections. This, as In A Nutshell explains, is why it's important to think differently about addiction: It's not about the drugs, at least not exclusively: "It's not the chemicals, it's your cage."


"If you're put into a horrific jungle in a foreign country where you don't want to be and you can be forced to kill or die at any moment, doing heroin is a great way to spend your time," they said. "But if you go back to your nice home with your friends and your family, it's the equivalent of being taken out of that fist cage and into a human rat park."

So when humans are in distress or without connections with other humans, they add, we're more likely to seek relief in other ways -- whether it's smart phones, the Internet or even drugs.

That's why our current "war on drugs" is so ineffective, they conclude. When we stigmatize and further push people who are isolated and disconnected enough to use drugs like heroin, we're not doing anything to help them get better or reclaim those lost human connections. We're just exacerbating the problem.

What we need to do, instead, is so much simpler: offer resources that can bring them back to those healthier (and infinitely happier) human connections.

You can watch the full video here:

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