Why Addiction Isn’t About Willpower or Character

addiction isn't about willpower

The recent studies about addiction are stunning! I have to share.

Now, maybe you’ve heard about the “rat park” study that came out in 1978? Canadian psychologist Bruce K. Alexander hypothesized that addiction was an environmental issue, not a psychological one.

He set out to prove it by creating a rat park where the rats had a lot of space, mates, toys, and plenty of food. They also had a choice of water or water laced with morphine.

The control group of rats were isolated in small spaces.

Alexander and his team changed the variables to see if that would change the outcome, but under all circumstances, this is what happened:

The isolated rats consumed far more morphine than the social ones.When the isolated rats were moved to Rat Park, they went through voluntary withdrawal – even when given nothing by morphine laced water for 57 days.Regardless of what variables they changed, Alexander and his team could not induce the social rats to become addicted.

Bill W. Was Right

As part of my undergraduate course work, I had to go to Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) meetings to learn about addiction and recovery. The first meeting I went to was large and incredibly warm. There was an overwhelming sense of acceptance and support.

I could see why Bill W., the founder of A.A. stressed going to meetings, having a sponsor, and positive regard.

I wasn’t an alcoholic, but I could get addicted to all that love!

addiction isn't about character

Addiction in People

What the newest research shows is that while addiction is a multifaceted issue, Alexander was on to something big!

You see, babies only have two ways to feel connection: cuddles and food. If they don’t get cuddles, they learn to search outside of themselves for connection because connection is life.

Babies are totally dependent upon their caretakers. Abandonment is death.

If a child develops secure attachment and can count on his needs being met and love being available, they move in the world feeling capable and with a sense of belonging.

If they don’t, they become outwardly focused and look for alcohol, drugs, food, stuff (hoarding), gambling, shopping, video games, sex, or other ways to get the “high” that securely attached people get from being with friends, family, and lovers.

This opens the door to addictive behavior of one sort of another.

So, it’s all about belonging, guys. We all need to feel safe enough to connect. And that starts with you.

If you want to get started on that path, check my Tribe. That’s what we’re all about.