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Animals and Addiction

Animals have the capability to suffer from addiction like humans.Alcohol or drug addiction – many people are still under the impression that addiction is a “choice”; that those who suffer from addiction just need to “pull themselves together” or “just say no”. We live in a society that encourages individualism and perpetuates a general dichotomy that insists upon viewing the individual as either strong or weak. Success is measured in materialistic acquisitions – the strong drive a BMW and the weak take the bus. Anyone who cannot control his or her drinking, eating or cocaine use is weak and guilty of having a “low” character. Society views them as untrustworthy and unwilling to “succeed”. Admittedly, for those who do not suffer from an addiction, it is difficult to understand and sympathise with those who do. We tend to roll our eyes when we see another celebrity check into a rehab centre or shake our heads when we read about the athlete “moaning” about his inability to control his excessive lifestyle. Our responses vary little when we hear the same stories regarding those who are in less “high profile” situations- there is still an attitude that suggests a belief that it is their fault, and that they just have to “choose” to be more disciplined and responsible. Yet, when someone we love, or care about ends up being arrested on their third DUI charge in a year – or has to be told for the third time in a month what they had done the night before because they were, again, in a “blackout” – or who continually is in desperate need of money by the tenth of the month because they work through an “eight ball” of cocaine in less than forty eight hours, we tend to be a little less judgmental, a little more concerned. But, are we still saying to ourselves: “get it together, man” – “just tell him NO, girl!”?

Is Addiction Really a Disease?

We have all heard of or read the numerous studies that refer to addiction as a disease, but we (society) still seem to be less willing to acknowledge such a disease as being a “real” disease. In the back of our minds many of us are still shaking our heads. Well, research is the same regarding all scientific inquiries, and addiction research demonstrates that genetics and chemicals in the brain directly contribute to the disease of addiction. This extensive research has been carried out for years on animals as well as humans and the results are conclusive. The basic functioning of the disease can best be understood through the examples recorded in the animal world.

Do Animals Suffer From Addictions the Same Way As Humans Do?

Animals experience similar difficulties as humans regarding addiction. While we humans have the ability to rationalise our actions and draw conclusions from those rationalizations, animals function on instinct – their behaviour is based on an innate genetic constitution. Chemical reactions in their brains produce stimulants and sensations that indicate to them that their actions are “correct”. Opioid, dopamine, oxytocin and numerous other neuro hormones regulate behaviour through a process that rewards the animal for behaviour that is essential to its survival. When these “rewards” are offered in the absence of the “behaviour”, they are often embraced, since the rewards involve pleasurable stimulation. In the natural world, it is rare that the rewards are available to the animal without the behaviour. Thus, there is little addiction in the animal kingdom. However, when the stimulant is artificially introduced, addiction can quickly take over and, often, consume the animal. Mice have been known to starve to death when faced with an either/or choice between cocaine and food. Reindeer have been known to break their regular habits in search of “magic” mushrooms and evidence has revealed that Tasmanian wallabies have infiltrated medical opium fields in their pursuit of the effects caused by the drug. Examples such as these pare down the most rudimentary elements of the natural chemical influence involved in addiction. Animals are not in a position to make “rational” decisions regarding their actions. They act in order to achieve the “reward” which is nature’s way to induce the animal to maintain its survival. When that “natural” reward system is tampered with, the “survival” of the animal, in fact, becomes threatened.

How Similar are We to Animals?

Excessive behaviour in humans is not always detrimental. The chemicals released in our brains that give us pleasure when we exercise or win a game of scrabble increases our physical and mental “fitness”. In this way, we are similar regarding the biological make-up of animals – we are rewarded for behaviour that is beneficial to our well-being. But, as with the mice, if that “natural” reward system is tampered with, our survival can be threatened. The tampering is often self-induced; and here comes the “disease” aspect of the reward system. Those individuals, whose brain chemistry is altered due to biological or environmental factors, are unable to control the “need” to embrace those pleasurable stimulants (alcohol, cocaine etc.…), and, because they are readily available, they pursue their addiction, distorting the calibration of their biological make-up. These are the people who cannot control their pursuit of the brain induced chemical rewards – these are the people who suffer from the disease of addiction.

Addiction is Not a Character Flaw

Understanding this tragic phenomenon, and recognising that it is not a character flaw, is the first step towards recovery. Treatment is readily available. At Sobriety Home trained professionals with years of experience are schooled in a variety of treatment methods that are designed to focus on each individual’s needs. This includes a holistic design; treating and healing mind, body, and soul. The environment at Sobriety Home and Searidge Foundation accommodates those factors that are essential to long term recovery – a welcoming, understanding atmosphere that recognises the loneliness and despair of addiction. We encourage companionship on all levels as an important means to recovery and treatment and we understand the distinct and emotional support that a loving pet can provide. At Sobriety Home we welcome and encourage our guests to bring their pets to stay with them as companions and fellow biological “soul mates” prone to the same insidious disease of addiction. 

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