group of friends hugging in a sober environment

Quitting Drinking With A Change Of Scenery

Last updated: November 10, 2017

There was an experiment popularized in the 1980s called Rat Park. The study tested rats and addiction by providing rats with two water bowls: one filled with plain water and the other with addictive drugs. The study found that the rats would continue to drink the tainted water until they were dead. Some years later however, Professor Bruce Alexander retried the experiment since he noticed something odd in the data. The former study never tested rats in a social environment, the rats were isolated in their individual cages. As a result, Professor Alexander recreated Rat Park with some rats alone in cages with two bowls of water and others in social cages (with plenty of toys) with two bowls of water.

As the rats didn’t know any better, both rats in social cages and those in isolated cages tried both water dishes. Noticeably however, those in social cages preferred the clean water, whereas those living in isolation continued to consume drugs.

Once the first phase of the experiment was complete, the professor took rats that had been isolated in their own cages for 57 days and introduced them to the social cages (again, still with both types of water). Despite some symptoms of withdrawal, the rats that were addicted appeared to acclimate to their new environment and voluntarily transitioned to the clean water.

The astonishing findings led to the conclusion that addiction was caused by a lack of social life or adequate stimulation. In short, Professor Alexander posited that addiction was a result of your environment as opposed to genetics or a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Now it’s worth noting that the results of this study have not been successfully recreated since it was conducted. And that the study fails to consider biology and genetics, which are proven factors of addiction. But that said, regardless of how quantifiable Professor Alexander’s conclusion is, the “environmental” factors of addiction are hard to ignore. There’s plenty of data around drug use and low-income households and substance abuse in war veterans – Time magazine reported heroin use “as common as chewing gum” during the Vietnam War. And yet, when the war veterans returned, 95% claimed to have stopped using the drug altogether; a statistic that seems to add credence to Professor Alexander’s findings.

Share Your Sober Counter

One of the many challenges an addict faces is isolation. An alcoholic will spend time with others who enjoy drinking rather than their friends and family. Even alcoholics who choose to get sober face isolation as their go-to social circle is no longer a healthy retreat. But if there’s anything to be gained from the Rat Park study, it’s that a change in environment can be good, maybe even necessary to stay sober.

Even if you don’t currently have a group of recovering addicts or a support system nearby, you can benefit from downloading the I Am Sober app. This sober counter will track your milestones, provide daily encouragement and enable you to share your progress with friends, family, or even an online community.

In the age of information, it’s all too easy to become isolated since you don’t need to interact with anyone face-to-face to have a full-time job, communicate, or even pick up groceries. But this is why taking advantage of social apps can help your recovery. You can communicate and arrange meetings with other people who are in the same situation as you. Download the app today and surround yourself with other recovering addicts. People who understand the sensation of highs and lows, and are working together to stay sober.

Sobriety, one day at a time.

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