Blog · Apr 02, 2015
Conventional wisdom suggests isolation rises out of addiction, but studies have shown that in fact addiction may be a result of social isolation. Of course, there is a vicious cycle that then develops; isolation breeds addiction which breeds further isolation.
Professor of Psychology, Bruce Alexander, conducted an experiment in the 1970s that has become known as the Rat Park experiment. Previous experiments revealed rats in isolation chose cocaine-laced water over plain water, so much so their addictions to the substance eventually lead to overdose and death. But Alexander wanted to test his theory which suggested rats would be less likely to become addicted to drugs in a social environment, so he created an engaging and social habitat. His rats were offered both plain and cocaine-laced bottles of water. Surprisingly, the inhabitants of Rat Park shunned the cocaine-laced water. These social and happy rats did not feel the draw of the drug their isolated counterparts felt.
Addiction psychologists assert that human beings have a deep desire to bond, and if they can’t connect with other people, they may turn to something to fill that void. The trouble is the escape is only a temporary surrogate for the lack of human connection. Using alcohol or other drugs to escape or turning to sugar for comfort or other forms of distraction betrays an addictive yearning to connect. And so begins the journey to addiction, further isolating the person from the meaningful human bond they fundamentally need and miss.
So what does this all mean for prevention? If isolation is likely to spawn addiction and a social environment fosters resilience, then it is essential that children learn how to develop and maintain healthy relationships from an early age. Fundamental social emotional skills equip children with the ability to bond with positive peers in a meaningful way. Effective communication and emotion management are key players on the road to building relationships. With these social emotional competencies in place, children can successfully maintain their forged connections. And a social environment clearly acts as a preventive measure against risky behaviors.
Let these studies shine a light on the necessity for us to give children the tools to build strong foundations. Children who connect with others in meaningful ways are happier, healthier, and ultimately more resilient. They, in turn, stay true to social lives free of drugs and violence.