The Bible, Rat Park, And Addicts

(More Bible Studies Available At

It is written:

1 Corinthians 15:33-Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.”

When I work with addicts, I always try to emphasize the need for them to cut ties (at least temporarily) with their friends and family members who enable their addiction. At the same time, I try to encourage them to cultivate good and close friendships with Christians who will hopefully try and encourage them in forming and maintaining good and godly habits.

Amazingly, researchers have shown that this is one of the key factors in helping addicts to stay sober.

“As I said earlier, the strongest evidence for the pharmaceutical theory of addiction had, for years, been a series of experiments on rats. A famous advertisement that ran on U.S. TV in the 1980s, paid for by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, explained it best. It shows a rat in close-up licking at a water bottle, as the narrator says: “Only one drug is so addictive, nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it. And use it. And use it. Until dead. It’s called cocaine. And it can do the same thing to you.” The rat runs about manically, then—as promised by the scary music—drops dead. Similar rat experiments had been run to prove the addictiveness of heroin and other drugs. But when Bruce looked at these experiments, he noticed something. These rats had been put in an empty cage. They were all alone, with no toys, and no activities, and no friends. There was nothing for them to do but to take the drug. What, he wondered, if the experiment was run differently? With a few of his colleagues, he built two sets of homes for laboratory rats. In the first home, they lived as they had in the original experiments, in solitary confinement, isolated except for their fix. But then he built a second home: a paradise for rats. Within its plywood walls, it contained everything a rat could want—there were wheels and colored balls and the best food, and other rats to hang out with and have sex with. He called it Rat Park. In these experiments, both sets of rats had access to a pair of drinking bottles. The first bottle contained only water. The other bottle contained morphine—an opiate that rats process in a similar way to humans and that behaves just like heroin when it enters their brains. At the end of each day, Bruce or a member of his team would weigh the bottles to see how much the rats had chosen to take opiates, and how much they had chosen to stay sober. What they discovered was startling. It turned out that the rats in isolated cages used up to 25 milligrams of morphine a day, as in the earlier experiments. But the rats in the happy cages used hardly any morphine at all—less than 5 milligrams. “These guys [in Rat Park] have a complete total twenty-four-hour supply” of morphine, Bruce said, “and they don’t use it.” They don’t kill themselves. They choose to spend their lives doing other things. So the old experiments were, it seemed, wrong. It isn’t the drug that causes the harmful behavior—it’s the environment. An isolated rat will almost always become a junkie. A rat with a good life almost never will, no matter how many drugs you make available to him. As Bruce put it: he was realizing that addiction isn’t a disease. Addiction is an adaptation. It’s not you—it’s the cage you live in. Bruce and his colleagues kept tweaking the experiment, to see just how much your environment shapes your chemical compulsions. He took a set of rats and made them drink the morphine solution for fifty-seven days, in their cage, alone. If drugs can hijack your brain, that will definitely do it. Then he put these junkies into Rat Park. Would they carry on using compulsively, even when their environment improved? Had the drug taken them over? In Rat Park, the junkie rats seemed to have some twitches of withdrawal—but quite quickly, they stopped drinking the morphine. A happy social environment, it seemed, freed them of their addiction. In Rat Park, Bruce writes, “nothing that we tried instilled a strong appetite for morphine or produced anything that looked to us like addiction.”” (Johann Hari, Chasing the Scream: The Inspiration for the Feature Film “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” (The Opposite of Addiction is Connection), 171-172 (Kindle Edition); New York, NY: Bloomsbury)

The writer of Proverbs reminds us that the companion of fools will be destroyed (Proverbs 13:20). In the Bible, the word “fool” often carried with it the meaning of someone who was morally obstinate before God (cf. Isaiah 32:6).

May we all heed the wisdom of God’s Word!

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

Leave a Reply

Powered by

Up ↑