The Importance of Stimulating Environment

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The Importance of Stimulating Environment

Environmental factors play a large role addiction

A few decades ago, the Rat Park experiment done by Alexander made a big splash in the scientific community, especially in regards to addiction research. Since then, the validity and implications of the study have been explored significantly. Despite the many questions that may be associated with this study, it did bring an important topic into the discussion of addiction that had been, until then, focused mainly on the biological elements of addiction. This was the concept of stimulation or having a stimulating environment. This is a key concept for addiction prevention and recovery. So, let’s talk about the importance of having a stimulating environment.

The Rat Park experiment found, among other things, that when rats were given an environment in which they could thrive, they preferred to drink water and not morphine-laced water, even if morphine had addictive properties. When rats who were put from a restricted and isolated environment into an environment that had everything a rat needed to be happy, the rats stopped drinking the morphine-laced water, albeit they preferred it before that. Now, people are not rats and have more complicated preferences and desires. While rats needed only places to run and explore, as well as the opportunity to eat, mate, and interact with other rats, what constitutes a stimulating environment for a person is more complex to define.

What does it mean to have a stimulating environment in general? It means to have an environment that allows the person to thrive and grow, as well as to stay busy with different activities that are interesting, engaging, and satisfying.

How does this environment connect to addiction? A more stimulating environment contributes to a higher well-being and makes the individual happier and more satisfied. It reduces their distress and provides them with new tools to manage their negative emotions and structure their time.

What might we include in a stimulating environment? There are many different things that may also vary depending on the individual’s preferences and tastes. However, there are some key aspects. The first one is the need to have opportunities for work and education. Some small cities suffer from this, as there are limited opportunities for work or study within the town. An example of this is a town that depends, primarily on a single source of jobs, like a factory or a mine, that quickly goes downhill when the source closes down. A lack of opportunities for education and work lead to a lack of development and financial resources. Secondly, one might consider the need for relationships. All people, even introverted ones, need to have meaningful and close relationships. An environment that contributes to isolation might promote addiction because people feel lonely and depressed. The next aspect of a stimulating environment is access to different types of activities. For instance, having green spaces around to walk in and opportunities for physical activity, having courses or cultural centers, having libraries and movie theaters and even malls are all aspects of a stimulating environment. A lot of attention in the prevention of addictive behaviors in latter years has been focused on creating, for instance, urban environments where young people can entertain themselves and engage in sports or artistic activities.

When talking about not just prevention but addiction recovery, it becomes very important to create a new, more stimulating environment for the person who is struggling with addiction. This means that the person should find new and better ways to occupy their time and foster all aspects that promote their well-being, for instance, positive relationships, hobbies, volunteering, artistic activities, sports, and others. This allows the person to find new ways to feel happy and satisfied without needing to resort to drugs.

A stimulating environment has lower levels of distress as well as different things that promote positive emotions, enjoyment, connectedness, and other things. People have needs beyond the basic ones: needs to be entertained, need to be close to other people, need to grow and practice their abilities. By creating an environment that is more in line with these needs, individuals with addiction can more effectively stay sober.

The Rat Park experiment remains controversial and has had limited testability with people, as opposed to rats. However, interestingly, some support for the finding came from war veterans. When veterans came back from Vietnam, many came back with drug problems. However, at home, at environments that were free of distress and much more stimulation, most kicked the habit with little issue despite the addictive properties of the drugs. It may be important to create a stimulating environment to promote well-being and recovery from addiction.

 

If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction reach out to the professionals at Valley Spring. If you want to learn more about our sober community 0r you’d like to learn more information, we can help you take the next step. Feel free to read our previous blog about what is the opioid epidemic.

Do Media Depictions of Drug Use Have an Impact on Real-world Drug Use?

Culture is both shaped and shaping

One of the criticisms associated with a lot of media that is blamed for being too violent or too sexual is associated with the way it portrays drug use. When we talk about drug use, we might consider alcohol, illicit drugs, and tobacco, which are often portrayed in a variety of contexts, and sometimes, portrayed in more positive, enticing, or appealing ways than the real-life consequences of drugs. Many people have protested these media depictions, but do they have an impact? Let’s take a look at some arguments for and against this and whether media depictions might influence real-life addiction.

 

For the impact of media:

  • Drugs are often portrayed as cool or more harmless than they truly are

Media depictions of drug use are often associated with “fun” and enjoyment. Alcohol, for example, might be shown as something that enables the characters to have fun or lose their inhibitions. Even if it has negative consequences, it might lead the characters into an adventure. Smoking is often a trait given to cool or tough characters. The use of illicit drugs is usually portrayed differently, but something like marijuana is often used for comedic effect or associated with positive characters. Drugs might be portrayed in positive ways and the negative consequences are not shown or downplayed. This can create association for the drugs that are more positive.

 

  • Even negative depictions of drug use can be appealing

However, to counter the above depictions, there have also been many negative portrayals of drugs or the characteristic of drug use is given to villains or antagonists. However, this doesn’t mean that the positive associations are not there. Villains or negative characters can also be perceived as cool or appealing, especially if they have desirable things, like status or money. For example, Scarface from the movie of the same name is often taken to be a cool character despite his flaws and, ultimately, his fate.

 

  • Media impacts real life

It is clear that media has an impact on real life. The portrayals of different things and behaviors in the media does impact what people choose to do. For example, after the release of the 101 dalmatians, more people wanted to have dalmatians as pets. After the release of media reports on publicized suicides, there is a spike in suicide rates. So, it cannot be said that media depictions are harmless because they might impact real-life behaviors. This could happen because they expose individuals to the idea of drug use, because they normalize the idea of using a drug (especially alcohol), and because they might show this behavior as desirable or associated with desirable traits.

Media Addiction Culture Sober Living NYC

Against the impact of media:

  • The impact is not absolute

Still, the impact of media depictions is not associated with brainwashing. It impacts some people more than others and it might have no effect on individuals at all. The impact of media might be greater for people who are more vulnerable to the influence in general and especially on those who are younger or lack critical thinking. For example, children could be more vulnerable to the ideas in the media than adults. So, the impact of media is not universal.

 

  • The impact may depend on the portrayal

As mentioned, many portrayals make drugs out to be more fun and enjoyable while not focusing as much on the consequences.  Some portrayals may go in the opposite direction and portray drugs as pure evil, which could have the opposite effects. Many PSAs that take this approach are frequently mocked online for their inaccuracy. However, more nuanced and realistic portrayals can be deterrents from drug use. For example, something that shows effectively the consequences of drug abuse and avoids glamorizing it can have a positive impact on real-life substance abuse.

 

  • Drugs are a part of life

Ultimately, media is something that reflects the human experience, and drugs are a part of that experience. Banning depictions of drug use completely is unlikely to be effective and might not have the desired effect. Instead, it would be important to encouraged varied, nuanced, and accurate depictions of drugs, being especially careful in relation to the media aimed at younger audiences.

 

So, what about drug depictions and addiction? For some people, media might have encouraged their addiction, so it would be best to avoid media portrayals that are too graphic, positive, or appealing, especially for people struggling with rehabilitation. If you or a loved one needs help and would like to explore next steps in the recovery process, please call one of our professionals at Valley Spring Recovery Services. To learn more general information about sober houses or about Valley Spring’s sober living NYC see the hyperlinks. Feel free to read our previous blog about the pros and cons of AA.