When people talk about substance abuse they are usually referring to a negative human behavior. In reality it is not only people who can become dependent on drugs. Research studies have shown that not only can animals develop a dependence on substances but they will also be willing to go to great lengths to obtain it. People can use the ability of animals to form an addiction as a means to control them. Once addicted, these animals will then be willing to perform different tasks in order to obtain the drug.
Research on non-human substance abuse has helped increase understanding of the mechanisms by which humans become addicted. It is hoped that the outcome of such work will lead to improved methods of treatment for addicts. This work with animals has already provided plenty of helpful data, but there are worries about the ethical implications of such research.
Pets and Recreational Drugs
It is quite common for people to give alcohol or other recreational drugs to pets. These individuals may do this because they believe the animal enjoys it. Some may even find amusing the sight of their pet stumbling around the house. Humans can decide for themselves if they wish to use alcohol or drugs but pets are not given such a choice. It is unfair to make them take recreational drugs. Ingesting substances like this can be distressing for the animal. Legally it would be treated as animal cruelty. It is actually a felony to give drugs to a pet. Animals have a much lower tolerance for these substances and even occasionally moderate use could be mentally and physically damaging.
Some pets become damaged by alcohol or drugs because they accidentally consume them. This happens when owners leave these substances lying within reach of the animal. Pets will be unaware of the dangers and just gobble up or sniff whatever is there. A lot of animals have died because they have ingested large amounts of coke or hash accidentally. In many of these cases the owner will fail to take their pet to a veterinary clinic because they are afraid of getting into trouble. This is a shame because most vets will only be concerned about the animal’s welfare and will have no interest in getting the police involved. The vet will only be obligated to contact the authorities if they believe that the owner deliberately gave their pet drugs.
Animal Studies into Addiction
Animal studies into addiction have provided plenty of useful data that may lead to treatment breakthroughs in the future. A research project conducted on St Kitts examined the effect of alcohol on 1,000 green vervet monkeys. The study found that only 5% of the population of monkeys developed serious drinking problems. Most of the monkeys only ever drank in moderation. The results of this project provide further evidence for a genetic component in addiction.
The rat pack study that took place during the late seventies has been a subject of quite a bit of controversy. Results implied that living conditions could be more a cause of addiction than the actual drug itself. During the experiment some rats were housed in small cramped cages while others had much better living conditions. Both groups of rats were given morphine but those who lived in poor living conditions were more likely to prefer the drug over water.
The results of the rat pack experiment were controversial because they argue against the disease model of addiction. If the problem is not the drug itself but the living conditions of the individual then this challenges the most accepted theories of addiction. It also contradicts many other experiments which demonstrate how animals and people become addicted due to exposure to the drug.
The results of the rat pack experiment have been questioned. The main criticism is that the research may contain methodological flaws. There have been other studies though, that do seem to back the conclusions of the rat pack project.
Ethics of Animal Studies into Addiction
As alcohol and drug use can be mentally and physically damaging to animals there are many ethical concerns about this type of research. This is an emotional topic and there are good arguments provided for and against such testing. The debate about animal testing has been raging since the mid fifteenth century.
Advocates of this type of experimentation can point to all the great advancements that have occurred due to animal studies. There is no doubt that many medical breakthroughs relied on such research. Addiction destroys lives and is responsible for many social problems. If animal studies can help improve the situation then they may be justified.
The idea that it is justifiable to cause animal suffering in the hope of improving life for the human is not universally accepted. It can be argued that animals have moral rights and it is therefore unethical to harm them even if there are benefits from doing so. It is difficult to determine what justifies animal suffering and so this debate is sure to continue.