Is the "rat park" study flawed?

There is a study going around about rats and addiction. Most call it “rat park” and it pretty much deals with the cause of addiction.

But even I could tell from a cursory glance that this seems a bit off. Saying that it isn’t the drug that is addictive but rather it’s the living conditions subjects find themselves in, which smacks of BS to me (considering the opioid epidemic). I’m even thinking to myself that humans are more complex than rats, we can’t really judge human behavior based on rats right?

I tried to spell this out to people but they cite how rats have similar brain chemistry to humans and so that’s why they were chosen. But doesn’t the study not blame biology though?

The conclusion, as I understand it, is that the use of some drugs is related to living in a stressful environment. The scientists who conducted the study seemed to have followed the scientific method by testing different groups of rats in differing environments with different access to drugs. The conclusion seems backed by solid evidence.

On the issue of whether a study done on rats can produce information about humans, that’s harder to judge. The study obviously did not put groups of humans through similar experiments. But there has been a large body of work that provides evidence that the psychologies of rats and humans can be compared. And the conclusions of the study match the data that emerges from real human societies.

OP are you acquainted with the studies of heroin use by American soldiers in the Vietnam War:

It should be noted that an attempt was made in 1996 to reproduce the study, right down to the breed of rats used in the experiment. In the first experiment the happy rats drank slightly more of the morphine, whereas in the second experiment the isolated rats drank more. They were not able to obtain the same results.

I always felt it was flawed because human emotion and, by extension, happiness is way more complex in humans that it is in rats.

One of the most well-known human drug addicts was a celebrity that had an actual amusement park in his backyard. It didn’t seem to help.

This is simply my own musings, but I think our self-awareness makes it more difficult to stop using drugs in light of adverse consequences. Addiction isn’t as simple as it’s portrayed in Fallout. Use alcohol too much, oops you’re addicted to alcohol, minor stat decrease if you don’t use it. Narcotics alter the way that addicts think. They make you think that everyone is out to get you, that the world is out to get you and that while your drug use is regrettable it’s also necessary in light of the obstacles you must overcome. Combine this with a community of drug users that are willing to cosign risky activities… Not only cessation of drugs is necessary, but a radical social change as well.

It sounds to me like the rats were getting their dopamine fix from uninhibited rat sex more than anything else. Maybe they weren’t able to pin down that this water bottle = dopamine 10 minutes later as easily due to this?

There are now and have been quite a few rich and privileged people who have/had an addiction problem.

And otherstudieshave provided some, albeit minor, support.
The short answer to the thread title question is unequivocally “yes, it is flawed.” The original study suffers from a number of confounds and replicability issues. Moreover, it has at times been used as a tool to oversimplify how we think of addiction.

However, there should be no doubt that the idea of “demon drugs,” the ones that will addict you the instant you look at them, is patently stupid and IMO more harmful than the opposite inanity that environment is solely responsible.

Environment is not a magic bullet for understanding addiction, but it plays an astoundingly important role. Addiction is ridiculously complex, and we eschew embracing that complexity at our peril.

I’ve heard people use this study to justify their recreational opiate use on the grounds that THEY won’t become addicted because they are happy and well-adjusted. I can think of a couple of cases where it didn’t turn out well.

ETA: it’s very complicated. I’ve always had a susceptibility for addiction. Part of the reason is my parents gave me a cocktail of alcohol and codeine on Christmas Eve when I was 8 or so, because they wanted us kids to fall asleep quick so they could play Santa. I think it really changed something, Past is past, but I wish they hadn’t done that.

Exactly. There has to be a reason that people can, say, go into the hospital for surgery, spend days, weeks, even months on opioids, and not come out of the hospital a raging junkie. It is well documented that some 20% of US soldiers in Vietnam had become addicted to heroin there, yet 95% of them simply stopped when they came home. It can’t be just the drugs.

It makes rather more sense if you think of it in marginal terms; Factors have effects at the margin; It isn’t all or nothing but there is a spectrum of addictiveness in substances, addiction vulnerability in people and addiction promotion in environments. Greater addictiveness or addiction promotion can lead to people who are close-but-not-quite to addiction to tip over.

There is a small but substantial percentage of the population which is prone to addiction. Those can become/stay addicted even in good environments. They can also become addicted to just about anything, whether it’s drugs, gambling, sex, etc.

A bad environment can increase the propensity of people to use and become addicted to drugs and the more addictive a drug is, the more likely that drug use will become drug abuse. OP says that pointing the finger at living conditions is BS because of the opioid epidemic but when you look at the opioid epidemic you see that it’s mainly among economically vulnerable people living in dying towns.

I think you’re assuming that being rich and privileged is the same as being happy. I don’t think that’s a fair assumption.

Don’t have a clue, suppose I could ask…ah, wait, I don’t know any.

The rat park implication is not that the rats were not happy, it is that they were not engaged and stimulated.

Someone once said, “Anecdotes are not evidence”. Unless the point in dispute is an absolute. In such a case a single, proven exception is evidence. That probably has nothing to do with OP, just sayin. ’

My WAG is that some people do drugs because they’re miserable and trying to kill the pain. Others do drugs because their brain physiology is such that a particular drug makes them feel absolutely wonderful. Everyone else says, “Meh. Crack is nice, but I wouldn’t want to do it all the time.”

In addition to what others have said, anxiety, depression and substance abuse tends to feed off each other and it is sometimes difficult to get to the root cause.

For example, if depression is leading you to miss work, causing increased anxiety, causing you to drink too much, causing you to be more depressed, etc. then it is all fine and good to stop drinking, go to AA, etc. but you will end up right back where you started because the drinking is not the issue.

Sometimes it works a different way. You become addicted to alcohol which makes you miss work which makes you anxious and then depressed. Prozac is not what is needed in this situation.

I see many friends attempting to treat what IMHO is not their root problem.