The Tail of the Raccoon, Part III: Departures – Educational and Scientific Commentary

Drug Addiction is a Chronic Relapsing Disorder
Arthur Tomie & Barbara Zito

“The Tail of the Raccoon” is a series of three scientific short stories that comprise The Sign Tracker Trilogy. The lesson of the first story, “The Tail of the Raccoon: Secrets of Addiction”, is that loss of self-control occurs when an object is paired with a reward over and over again. In this way, the wood became a symbol or cue for the reward. This experience of wood cue and food reward, paired together, over and over again, led to the development of Sign-Tracking, which caused the Raccoon to behave towards the kindling wood as though it were food. The Raccoon is unable to restrain Sign-Tracking behavior, even though it serves no purpose other than to deprive the Raccoon of access to the real food reward.

The disconnect between the Raccoon’s action (to chew on the kindling wood) and the Raccoon’s intention (to eat the delicious foods) is not unlike the behavior of a drug addict, who wants to reduce drug use, but, instead, finds himself or herself unable to control the impulse to have yet another.

Sign-Tracking induces loss of control of action that is directed at objects that signal the reward. This is precisely the problem of the drug addict. The drug addict is unable to control their drug-taking. They take the drug even when they are trying not to, and, like Sign-Tracking, their drug-taking consists of action directed at the object that is a signal of reward. For example, in the presence of the cocktail glass, the abuser of alcohol is drawn toward the glass and cannot resist reaching out and drinking from the glass. This suggests that in many cases of addiction, the overlooked but underlying basis for the addict’s uncontrolled drug-taking, is Sign-Tracking of drug-taking.