Bruce K. Alexander

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Bruce K. Alexander (born 20 December 1939)[1] is a psychologist and professor emeritus from Vancouver, BC, Canada.[1] He has taught and conducted research on the psychology of addiction at Simon Fraser University since 1970.[2] He retired from active teaching in 2005. Alexander and SFU colleagues conducted a series of experiments into drug addiction known as the Rat Park experiments. He has written two books: Peaceful Measures: Canada's Way Out of the War on Drugs (1990)[3] and The Globalization of Addiction: A Study in Poverty of the Spirit (2008).[4]

Rat park[edit]

The "rat park" experiments were published in the journal Psychopharmacology in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Alexander and his colleagues found that the rats in their study that were housed in isolation consumed more morphine than the rats in the rat park colony.[5][6] One of those studies found that both caged and "park" rats showed a decreased preference for morphine, suggesting a genetic difference.[5] Other studies have supported the conclusions, finding that environmental enrichment induces neurological changes that would serve to decrease the chances of opiate addiction[7][8] Alexander's work laid the groundwork for a body of work in rodents on the social influences on addiction.[8]

Writings and views[edit]

Alexander then explored the broader implications of Rat Park experiments for human beings. The main conclusions of his experimental and historical research since 1985 can be summarized as follows:

  1. Drug addiction is only a small corner of the addiction problem. Most serious addictions do not involve either drugs or alcohol[9]
  2. Addiction is more a social problem than an individual problem. When socially integrated societies are fragmented by internal or external forces, addiction of all sorts increases dramatically, becoming almost universal in extremely fragmented societies.[10]
  3. Addiction arises in fragmented societies because people use it as a way of adapting to extreme social dislocation. As a form of adaptation, addiction is neither a disease that can be cured nor a moral error that can be corrected by punishment and education.[11]

In 2014 Alexander published the book A History of Psychology in Western Civilization.[12]

1995 WHO cocaine research project[edit]

One line of research in which Alexander played a key role was actively suppressed by the World Health Assembly. Early in the 1990s the World Health Organization (WHO) organized the largest study on cocaine use ever undertaken. Profiles of cocaine use were gathered from 21 cities located in 19 countries all over the world. Alexander was selected as the principal investigator for the Vancouver site. The WHO announced publication of the results of the global study in a press release in 1995.[13]

However, an American representative in the World Health Assembly effectively banned the publication, apparently because the study seemed to contradict the dominant myth of addictive drugs, as applied to cocaine. Part of the study's findings were "that occasional cocaine use does not typically lead to severe or even minor physical or social problems." In the sixth meeting of the B committee the US representative threatened that "If WHO activities relating to drugs failed to reinforce proven drug control approaches, funds for the relevant programs should be curtailed". This led to the WHO decision to postpone publication. The study has not been published officially but was leaked in 2009 and is available at WikiLeaks.[14]

Awards and recognition[edit]

In 2007, Alexander received the Nora and Ted Sterling Prize in Support of Controversy from Simon Fraser University.[15] In 2011, he was invited to present at the Royal Society of Arts and Manufactures in London.[16]


  1. ^ a b Alexander, Bruce. "Curriculum Vitae " Archived June 7, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, Retrieved on 12 May 2013.
  2. ^[full citation needed]
  3. ^ Alexander, B.K. (1990) Peaceful Measures: Canada's Way Out of the War on Drugs. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-6753-0[page needed]
  4. ^ Alexander, B.K. (2008). The Globalization of Addiction: A study in poverty of the spirit. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-958871-6[page needed]
  5. ^ a b Petrie, B. F (2016). "Environment is not the Most Important Variable in Determining Oral Morphine Consumption in Wistar Rats". Psychological Reports. 78 (2): 391–400. doi:10.2466/pr0.1996.78.2.391. PMID 9148292.
  6. ^ Bozarth, M. A; Murray, A; Wise, R. A (1989). "Influence of housing conditions on the acquisition of intravenous heroin and cocaine self-administration in rats". Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior. 33 (4): 903–7. doi:10.1016/0091-3057(89)90490-5. PMID 2616610.
  7. ^ Xu, Zhiwei; Hou, Bing; Gao, Yan; He, Fuchu; Zhang, Chenggang (2007). "Effects of enriched environment on morphine-induced reward in mice". Experimental Neurology. 204 (2): 714–9. doi:10.1016/j.expneurol.2006.12.027. PMID 17331503.
  8. ^ a b Eitan, Shoshana; Emery, Michael A; Bates, M.L.Shawn; Horrax, Christopher (2017). "Opioid addiction: Who are your real friends?". Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. 83: 697–712. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.05.017. PMID 28552458.
  9. ^ Alexander, Bruce K; Schweighofer, Anton R. F (1988). "Defining 'addiction'". Canadian Psychology. 29 (2): 151–62. doi:10.1037/h0084530.
  10. ^ Alexander, Bruce K (2009). "The Globalization of Addiction". Addiction Research. 8 (6): 501–26. doi:10.3109/16066350008998987.
  11. ^ "A Change of Venue for Addiction: From Medicine to Social Science". Archived from the original on 2011-11-13. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
  12. ^ Alexander, Bruce. A History of Psychology in Western Civilization. Cambridge University Press (2014). ISBN 978-0521189309[page needed]
  13. ^ Goldacre, B. (2009, 13 June). "The cocaine study that got up the nose of the US." Guardian. Retrieved 1 March 2011 from
  14. ^ "World Health Organization global Cocaine Project Study suppressed by the United States for 13 years, 1995 - WikiLeaks".
  15. ^[full citation needed]
  16. ^[full citation needed][permanent dead link]

External links[edit]