Demon Drug Myths

Rat Park versus The New York Times

Rat Park versus The New York Times
Bruce K. Alexander

     Rat Park closed forever more than 30 years ago. In its heyday, it was a very large plywood box on the floor of my addiction laboratory at Simon Fraser University. The box was fitted out to serve as a happy home and playground for groups of rats. My colleagues and I found that rats that lived together in this approximation of a natural environment had much less appetite for morphine than rats housed in solitary confinement in the tiny metal cages that were standard in those days.
     Who could be surprised by this finding? The only people who acted surprised at the time – and a bit offended – were those addiction researchers who believed that the great appetite for morphine, heroin, and cocaine that earlier experiments had demonstrated in rats housed in the tiny solitary confinement cages proved that these drugs inevitably caused addiction in all mammals, including human beings. I call this idea the “Myth of the Demon Drug.” This myth was the backbone of mainstream theories of addiction in those days.

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Mark Twain and American drug "literature"

The United States has exported wondrous cultural innovations to the rest of the world. However, one of these is not its approach to drugs, which is moralistic, illogical and intrinsically violent (Alexander, 1990; Boaz, 1990, Peel, 1989; Trebach, 1987). Among the manifestations of the American way of dealing with drugs is a literature, which ranges from the blatant "fried-egg" propaganda of the popular media to a body of overblown professional writing that appears in medical, psychological, and social science journals. Both the propagandistic component and the professional component have their roots in the simultaneously moralistic and "scientific" temperance literature that began appearing in the United States at the_ beginning of the 19th century (see Benjamin Rush, 1790.1805/1947,1819; Kobler, 1973; Alexander, in preparation).

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Listen to Bruce Alexander
speak with David Crowe on
"The Infectious Myth" 

Dealing with Addiction