People who are socially isolated may be more prone to develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol, according to the results of a study which was recently reported on by The Times of India. Researchers at the College of Natural Sciences in Austin, Texas conducted a behavioral study to examine the differences in how rats who were socially isolated responded as compared to those who were permitted to remain living in a group with their peers.
They used rats because these animals have been demonstrated to have similar mechanisms of addiction to those in humans, and because the animals have far shorter life cycles than humans do, which makes it unnecessary to wait several years to observe similar behavior and physiological changes among humans. The rats were subjected to social isolation for a period of about a month beginning when they reached the age of 21 days, an age which is approximate to the period of early and middle adolescence among humans. The study concluded that rats who experienced social isolation were significantly more at risk of developing an addiction to drugs or alcohol when exposed to the substances than those who were permitted to remain in their social groups during this key period of development. This suggests that the same may be true in human adolescents who have few friends and are generally isolated during their teenage years.
Both groups of rats, those that were isolated and those who were socialized, were given the opportunity to obtain alcohol and amphetamines from a small box which was installed in the cage. While it was possible to cause addiction in the rats who lived in a group setting, it was found that this required far more extensive and repeated exposures than was found to be the case among the isolated rats. In contrast, nearly all of the rats who were living alone became addicted after a single exposure to alcohol or drugs. Further, the rats who were isolated took far more time to recover from their addictions than did the ones living in groups. In fact, the rats who were isolated during adolescence continued to display addictive behaviors which persisted long after they were finally reintroduced to their community. This was observed not only through the rats’ behavior, but also through testing of their neurons to determine how their brain activity was responding to the changes.
Effects Of Socialization On Addiction
Consuming drugs or alcohol generally triggers the release of dopamine, a chemical in the brain which is associated with feelings of well-being, pleasure or even euphoria. It is widely understood that this is a key factor in the development of addiction: As the brain becomes accustomed to experiencing a flood of dopamine when the individual takes drugs, it gradually adapts to the extremes and eventually becomes dependent on the presence of the drug in order to function normally, let alone to get high. What was observed in the study was that the rats who were cut off from their community became more sensitive to the rewards of taking drugs or alcohol, as their brains were more susceptible to experiencing sudden spikes of dopamine.
It can be hypothesized that the rats who were living in a group setting were less sensitive to the drugs as a result of the stimulation and pleasure derived from social interaction. The researchers proposed that similar mechanisms may be at work in other addictions, such as in cases of adolescents becoming addicted to eating as a result of social isolation.
If the study results do apply to human addiction, it becomes clear that teenagers and young adults can benefit greatly from having supportive and interested parents at home as well as a healthy and thriving social life to make their lives richer and to help them resist the temptation to start using drugs or alcohol.
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