Adam J. Diemar*
Rat Park was a study into drug addiction conducted in the late 1970s (and published in 1981) by Canadian psychologist Bruce K. Alexander and his colleagues at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. (Wikipedia.org search Rat Park). Essentially, a rat was given 2 bottles of water, in a plain, ordinary cage. One laced with heroin, the other pure water. The rat would choose the bottle of water laced with heroin.
The experiment was expanded to 2 bottles of water, one laced with heroin and the other pure water. This time however, the setting of the rat was that there was a huge cage, with balls and wheels and distractions and other rats, with ample room to mate. In this second experiment, still the two bottles, one with and without heroin, the rat would choose the pure water and spend time with the recreation available.
This is telling of the drug-addicted life. Only a part of the drug afflicted persons life is that they are addicted to drugs. The bigger problem is that they feel apart of society. Because, given the right job, partner, living situation, leisure activity, and other basic needs, a person can be sober or reduce their drinking or drug use (from personal beliefs I have chosen a life of abstinence rather than a life of safe drinking, and this has been my personal preference. I am sure others are satisfied with the alternative (drinking in moderation).
I can say from experience is that there is a definite trajectory that one can find themselves on where they are retreating from society and into addiction. It is more like a progressive lifestyle that one falls into – addiction- and can find oneself using drugs to excess as they are distanced from society.
So, how does this relate to Medication Assisted Treatment? I guess it is only that Medication Assisted Treatment or MAT cannot work in isolation. Unless there is a revolutionary change in the persons life- as evidenced by the commencement of getting reintegrated with society- than MAT is a waste of time. That is to say, medication, in isolation, does not have the substantial necessary components to wellness. Medication can be used as a part of a holistic approach to wellness, but that is the only time that it is effective.
The rats chose heroin over water, with nothing more substantial as a better alternative. Given a better option, a rat utopia, in which they have others to co-exist with, as the French would say, a milieu, the rats would choose the park as opposed to the heroin. So in the drug addicted persons case, if the person could build themselves a healthy, well-rounded life, the drugs could come back to take their respective place, which is to say to not be used or to be used in moderation.
MAT is helpful, if the person receiving medication is seeing a counselor, getting community support, finding satisfactory work, finding a partner, and taking part in the society that makes them feel a part of, rather than apart from. Otherwise, if used in isolation, I fear that MAT is a waste of time and resources.
* The author writes since his experience in recovery, he also holds a bachelor of Social Work. This paper is a matter of opinion and is not necessarily based in fact or science. As such, it should be taken that way.