Cause of Addiction


Introduction Questions (answer in the comments section below):

  1. What does the word addiction mean?
  2. Brainstorm: What are different kinds of things that people get addicted to?
  3. What do you think causes addiction?

Key Vocabulary:

1. Deeply ingrained

a. A strong desire

2. To be fixated with something

b. Obsessed with

3. Strong Chemical Hook

c. A chemical that causes addiction

4. a Ferocious Craving

d. A scientific procedure to make a discovery

5. Inject

e. A cage full of something nice

6. a Lush Cage

f. Something so deep that it is difficult to change

7. Experiment

g. To drive a liquid into a person or animal.


Main Idea Question (skim article to answer main idea question):

According to the article, what is the cause of addiction?

Read the Article

Reading Strategies:

  • Skim (read quickly) the entire article for the main idea before reading for detail: Read the article quickly to get the main idea of the entire article before answering the following detail questions.
  • Do not stop for words you do not know: As you read, do not stop for words you do not know. Underline or note the word or phrase, guess from context, and move on. If you think it is a useful word or phrase, come back to it later and look up the meaning.
  • Write 1-3 words summarizing the main idea of each paragraph as you read: As you read (not afterward) write down a note (around 1-3 words) for each paragraph you read summarizing its main idea. After you read for the main idea, then read a second time more carefully to answer the detail questions.

The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think

It is now one hundred years since drugs were first banned — and all through this long century of waging war on drugs, we have been told a story about addiction by our teachers and by our governments. This story is so deeply ingrained in our minds that we take it for granted. It seems obvious. It seems manifestly true. Until I set off three and a half years ago on a 30,000-mile journey for my new book, Chasing The Scream: The First And Last Days of the War on Drugs, to figure out what is really driving the drug war, I believed it too. But what I learned on the road is that almost everything we have been told about addiction is wrong — and there is a very different story waiting for us, if only we are ready to hear it.

If we truly absorb this new story, we will have to change a lot more than the drug war. We will have to change ourselves.

I had a quite personal reason to set out for these answers. One of my earliest memories as a kid is trying to wake up one of my relatives, and not being able to. Ever since then, I have been turning over the essential mystery of addiction in my mind — what causes some people to become fixated on a drug or a behavior until they can’t stop? How do we help those people to come back to us? As I got older, another of my close relatives developed a cocaine addiction, and I fell into a relationship with a heroin addict. I guess addiction felt like home to me.

If you had asked me what causes drug addiction at the start, I would have looked at you as if you were an idiot, and said: “Drugs. Duh.” It’s not difficult to grasp. I thought I had seen it in my own life. We can all explain it. Imagine if you and I and the next twenty people to pass us on the street take a really potent drug for twenty days. There are strong chemical hooks in these drugs, so if we stopped on day twenty-one, our bodies would need the chemical. We would have a ferocious craving. We would be addicted. That’s what addiction means.

One of the ways this theory was first established is through rat experiments — ones that were injected into the American psyche in the 1980s, in a famous advert by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. You may remember it. The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.

The advert explains: “Only one drug is so addictive, nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it. And use it. And use it. Until dead. It’s called cocaine. And it can do the same thing to you.”

But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?

In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.

The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.

(The full article is here:

Detail Questions (the answers are located in order as you read the article):

1) What is deeply ingrained in our minds?

2) What is the personal reason for the author to set out for the answer to addiction?

3) What was injected into the American psyche?

4) What was the difference between the two rat experiments?

Writing Response:

Different prompts to respond to (choose one or more):

  • What do you think is the cause of addiction?
  • What do you think about the author’s conclusion? Do you agree or disagree?
  • Critically evaluate: do you think that the author has any kind of bias or a reason to promote her ideas? What kind of political views are tied to such an opinion? What kind of policy changes do you think the author’s opinion suggest? Do you agree with them?

Writing Strategies:

  • Make a quick outline: first, you can use different strategies to brainstorm. Then, clearly state your opinion/argument/main idea of your essay. From there, make an outline with 1-2 sentences of what the main paragraphs of your essay will include (the intro, body, and conclusion paragraphs).
  • Write the intro: include a hook (an interesting introductory sentence to capture the reader’s attention), some supporting info, and a thesis statement (stating your opinion/argument).
  • Write body paragraphs: remember to include a topical sentence (stating the main idea of the paragraph) as well as a transitional sentence (one that will transition well to the next paragraph).
  • Conclusion: here you want to summarize your opinion/argument/main idea of the essay, and end strongly with a concluding statement.