CSTL Blog

What the Rat Park Study means to recovery

don 2017Thoughts from Don Troutman, Founder, Clean & Sober Transitional Living

Last January, Sacramento’s Mayor Steinberg, the Board of Supervisors and Sacramento City Council members met to discuss solutions to our region’s homelessness crisis. Advocates for every segment of the homeless – youth, families, addicts and alcoholics – overflowed from the meeting chambers into the foyer.

After presentations by the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, passionate representatives from every facet of the community made their case for services and support. Their brief but cordial requests featured a common thread: the quest for connection to assistance and the right resources.

It is reassuring to know there was representation for the homeless who struggle with alcohol or other drugs. After all, they represent 25% of the region’s homeless, according to the January 2016 homeless count. Their ranks may be even bigger today, in light of the opioid epidemic barreling our way.

This leads us right into transitional living, the powerful solution for anyone – homeless or not - who has gotten treatment for substance use disorder. People in early recovery need role models, support and community to stabilize and reinforce their sobriety. We are all social beings with an innate need for connection, and a meaningful social life can offer a critical scaffold of recovery.

Psychologists have explored the need for connection and find that even lowly rats thrive in a plush “Rat Park” surrounded by other rodents and distractions. In that stimulating social environment, they chose to drink fresh water instead of a narcotic brew. In contrast, rats who were isolated and bored chose to drink themselves to death with drug-infused water.

The famous Rat Park study is a simplistic testament to the power of connection and stimulation, but it makes this important point: A rich social life can be a critical part of recovery from drug abuse. That’s the “social” piece in the bio-psycho-social model of addiction and recovery. With that powerful model in mind, let’s see if we can change the conversation from “homelessness” to “transitional living” and from “addiction” to “social recovery.”

 

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