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Drugs Are Not Our Cage: 1in6 Thursdays on the Joyful Heart Foundation Blog

I know about drugs and addiction. I went to Alateen meetings sometimes as a kid, while my father attended his AA meetings. I began experimenting with drugs and alcohol as a teenager, and after the abuse by my pastor started, my use increased. By the time I was 18, I was getting high in some form every day.

I began experimenting with drugs and alcohol as a teenager and, after my abuse started, my use increased

So you can imagine this article title caught my eye, The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think.* In the article, author Johan Hari tells us about the studies on addiction we have all heard: rats have access to two bottles of liquid. One has just water and the other is laced with drugs. The studies show every time that given that option the rats will drink the drugs until they finally die. We think we observe the same thing in humans.

In the 1970’s a researcher by the name of Bruce Alexander noticed that in all of these rat studies, the rats were alone in their cages. He wondered what would happen if he modified the experiment to add community, so he built a “Rat Park that was a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want.” He then introduced the two-bottle option: one, pure water and one laced with drugs.

Guess what happened? They drank less that one-quarter the amount of drugs than the rats that were alone in a cage. AND none of them did so to the point of killing themselves. His conclusion was that happy rats with good social connections don’t get addicted to drugs.

Professor Alexander did not stop there. He repeated the experiment by first putting the rats in isolation, gave them drugs and got them addicted. He then took them out of isolation and put them in the fancy “Rat Park.” He watched them first go through withdrawal, then stop their heavy use and then return to a normal non-addicted life. His conclusion was that addictive drugs are not the problem, disconnection is.

I have studied addiction as well as lived with it most of my life. I know the science around addiction and inheriting the predisposition to addiction from our parents. There is lots of brain science to support our traditional thinking around alcohol and drug abuse.

Now I would like to use myself as an example. I lived with my secret of being sexually abused by my pastor for 40 years. You can probably guess that I also used drugs for all 14,600 days of my painful secret keeping. Rarely did a day pass that I did not get high in some fashion.

I began using drugs less as I finally began therapy and addressed what had happened to me as a teen. After I began living my life differently and began having human connections again I stopped entirely. IT DID NOT HAPPEN OVERNIGHT. At first it was on and off, but as I got healthier and really began having relationships with other adults, I no longer needed to go hide in my solitude.

As I got healthier and really began having relationships with other adults, I no longer needed to go hide in my solitude

I share this story not necessarily to challenge traditional thinking around addiction. I share it to show fellow survivors who have had similar issues with drugs and alcohol that there is an alternative that is not framed around addiction. Our cage was built by the abuse we suffered, not the drugs, so if we want out, we must deal with the abuse.

It took me forty years to figure out what is explained in this article. Hopefully others can read this and figure out there is a better world available whenever they are able to address the true cause of their pain.

May it be so for you.

Randy Ellison

*The Huffington Post Blogs 1/20/15 by Johan Hari

*Randy thumbnail-1Speaker, writer and author of the book Boys Don’t Tell: Ending the Silence of Abuse, Randy Ellison is a child-sexual-abuse, victim’s advocate and an activist promoting cultural change working with local, state and national organizations. Randy also works as a consultant for nonprofits dealing with awareness and prevention of intimate violence. He addresses abuse prevention and healing for survivors from a survivor’s perspective. Randy is a member of the Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force. He maintains his own website