(By Wanda Stutzman)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about loneliness and what an epidemic it’s become in our culture. Statistics say that 1 out of every 5 adults experiences loneliness on a regular basis. In an age where we can more quickly connect with people than ever before, why are so many of us lonely?

In a matter of mere seconds, we can connect with a multitude of people via social media or texting. We can have conversations with people overseas, just as if they were sitting in our living room. We can share photos of family and friends and keep up on each other’s lives in spite of the distance between us. So why the loneliness?

Loneliness drives people to do things they never thought possible. I read this interesting article recently and am sharing a portion of it here:

Dr. Bruce Alexander of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC reconsidered a famous lab experiment done in the 1970s involving addiction. He pondered that the presumptions behind the science could be flawed and incomplete. The scientific experiment in the 1970s involved a lone rat in a rat cage with two water bottles. One was laced with cocaine and the other just water.  In this well-known experiment, it was allegedly proven that nine out of ten rats in the rat cage will go back, again and again, to the cocaine bottle until they killed themselves. The conclusion taken from this experiment was that the rats were hopelessly chemically addicted to the point of suicide. Not so fast.

Dr. Alexander set up an alternative experiment that he called the Rat Park. The Rat Park was an environment where many rats were together in a habitat of relationships, tunnels, food, and exercise.

The results of the Rat Park were almost unbelievable. The previously addicted rats stopped taking the deadly drug without coaxing, withdrawal, or removal of the drug from their environment. The chemical hook was not strong enough to stand against the bonds of relationship that were introduced in Rat Park.  The self-mutilation and nihilistic addictive suicides were reduced to nothing in the Rat Park. Dr. Alexander summarized it this way:

The view of addiction from Rat Park is that today’s flood of addiction is occurring because our hyper-individualistic, hyper-competitive, frantic, crisis-ridden society makes most people feel socially and culturally isolated. Chronic isolation causes people to look for relief. They find temporary relief in addiction to drugs or any of a thousand other habits and pursuits because addiction allows them to escape from their feelings, to deaden their senses, and to experience an addictive lifestyle as a substitute for a full life.

Drugs and addiction were never really the issue! Aloneness was the issue, though the “rat” would never have thought of it that way. You don’t know what you don’t know. {}

I can’t help but think that most addictions are fueled by loneliness. Satan uses that tool to wreck people’s lives and he’s actually been pretty successful.

Don’t fool yourself, the lonely are often found in churches. If the body of Jesus Christ {church} has such a problem, what are we going to do about it? How can we as believers help?

(Part 2 coming next week)

Wanda Stutzman