Does Boredom Lead to Drug Use?


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In a study, researcher Bruce Alexander created a Rat Park. His hypothesis was that rats that abused drugs only used them due to poor living conditions. In previous studies, rats were put in small cages and linked to self-injection devices. They would keep taking morphine until they died. Originally, this meant that "The rat's behavior is simply controlled by the action of heroin (actually morphine, to which heroin is converted in the body) on its brain." Time and time again this study proved true, meaning that these drugs were highly addictive and should not be used.

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But Bruce wasn't sure about this study. His curiosity is what sparked this interesting study. He put "16-20 rats of both sexes in residence, an abundance of food, balls and wheels for play, and enough space for mating and raising litters." There was also plain tap water and morphine wlaced water in the park. The result went along with his hypothesis. The rats mostly chose plain water.

This study was experimental and observational. The rats in the cages had various variables cancelled out, such as exercise on the wheels and socializing. The study showed that when the rats were given peers and activities to due, they would choose them over the morphine. Even rats the were given morphine for 57 straight days tended to drink the plain water. 

This study applies to society because people in poverty who feel caged in with nothing to do, may be more likely to turn to drugs to make their lives more exciting or to distract them from their miserable lives. This comic summarizes the study fairly well. 

In all, I found this study to be quite interesting. Unfortunately, much more studies need to be done to prove this hypothesis. Correlation does not equal causation. There may be some third variable such as peer pressure that causes rats to either take the drug or stay away from it. We do not want to generalize this study like we did in the '50s and '60s with previous studies about the caged rats. What do you think they could to do cancel out more variables and make this a more experimental study?

2 Comments

I think your concerns about some kind of "peer pressure" effect could be handled by building a third cage with toys/wheels to play with, but no other mice present. As long as everything else about the mice were the same across groups, the experiment would provide strong evidence that there is a causal link between lack of toys and morphine use.

I just wonder how applicable the study would be for humans. Obviously, the real world isn't a "cage", and there are plenty of possible third variables to consider (poverty, family, urban setting, etc.). But this study definitely gives me more respect for "keep the kids off the street" efforts to help curb drug use and violence. Great post!

I found this post very interesting how that boredom could lead to drug use. However could it have been a different element that lead to the drug use such as depression from being isolated instead of boredom? Thanks for such an interesting post!

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