Thousands of studies have been done claiming that addiction is a disease, mostly by putting rats in a cage with some drugs and noting that they’ll repeatedly take the drugs, even if it means starving to death.
Bruce Alexander was skeptical about these results. He noticed that the rats in the experiments were stuffed alone in a boring cage with little else to do. “If I was strapped down alone in a cage,” he thought, “I’d probably want to get high too.”
So he built a rat park — a large, intricate, brightly-painted and heavily-padded structure to make the rats actually happy. He put half the rats in the normal cages and half in the park and gave both equal access to drugs.
The rats in the cage got addicted, while the rats in the park stayed away.
Then, even more strikingly, he took rats who’d had 57 days to get addicted to the drugs and took half of them out of the cages and put them in the park. The rats, even though they’d been addicted in the cage, suddenly stayed away from the drugs. They even voluntarily detoxed — trembling and shaking, but still staying off the drugs.
The top-shelf journals like Science and Nature rejected the study. It did end up getting published in a peer reviewed journal (Pharamacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, impact factor 1.5), but received little public attention. His university pulled the funding for the project.