Social Update: A Story of Drug Addiction

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Many people don't think of drug use as a cultural problem. Often times they'll consider it a relatively modern problem. While it is true that there are certain components to the drug epidemic that are relatively modern, drug use and alcoholism is a very old problem that dates back to at least the ancient Sumerian civilization, which used opium. In fact, they used opium so much that the word for "joy" or "rejoicing" is synonymous with the opium plant. Truly, drug use began as a cultural phenomenon before it ever became a modern day problem exacerbated by global drug trafficking, modern day methods of refining certain drugs, and physician indifference towards prescribing dangerous and addictive drugs. 

According to the American Medical Association, addiction is a mental disorder and is characterized as a disease, on the same par as other mental disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. People that disagree with this idea always point to the fact that there is a choice when it comes to using drugs, and there is no choice when it comes to other diseases like cancer. However, there are fundamental problems with this idea. For one thing, sexually transmitted diseases like Syphilis, Gonorrhea, and even HIV begin with a decision. One could argue that if the infected individual had abstained from sex or worn a condom, they wouldn't have the disease. You can even apply the same example to smokers who develop lung cancer. Everyone knows they probably brought it upon themselves, but nobody brings this up. Regardless of this, people that suffer from these infections are never compared to people who suffer from drug addiction or alcoholism. Nobody blames them because they contracted Herpes, it is just accepted. On the other hand, a drug addict is constantly told that it is their own fault, that they have chosen to live like that, that they shouldn't receive any help. It is a double standard which most people don't ever take the time to think about. 

Drug addiction and alcoholism are diseases for very clear reasons. When a normal person uses a drug, morphine for example, for a sports injury, it relieves the pain for which it was prescribed. Often times, these normal people will suffer from side effects like nausea, light headedness, and shallow breathing. Once the pain goes away, they don't think about the drugs any more because the pain is gone. The drugs aren't necessary. When a drug addict goes through the exact same situation, with legitimate pain that needs strong pain relief, the brain reacts completely differently. Often times, when under the influence of an opiate like morphine, the brain will make the addict believe that they feel more normal under the influence. The brain makes it seem like one is more efficient under the influence, they get more things done. The anxiety that had affected them before the sports injury is lessened by the opiates. The addict is more affable, easier to talk to, relaxed. The addict may then go home with a prescription for something less strong; perhaps they are prescribed Vicodin. 

What happens next you can probably guess. But before we go there, it's important to note that this person could be anyone. As you read, you probably already have a picture in your head. The addict you're thinking of is probably male, probably young. He probably has long hair and he probably listens to heavy metal or rap. This is a complete misconception. This example could be anyone; it could be a soccer mom that twisted her knee or ankle while walking her dog in the park. When the addict gets home and fills their prescription, they are expecting that good feeling back. They want to feel normal again. Forget the pain, they just want to feel that feeling again. Pretty soon they'll realize that the doctor's instructions won't give them that feeling. Pretty soon they'll realize that if they double up on their pills, it starts to feel better. After that, they realize that if they crush up the pills, they feel better faster. This slippery slope happens fast. Pretty soon they're out of pills and they can't refill them for another two weeks because they've been taking them way more often than prescribed. Fear starts to set in. A few hours after their last dose, they start to feel a little funny. Their nose starts to run and their eyes begin to water. They start to feel fidgety. Perhaps sleep will help but it's just way too cold to sleep and they can't stop kicking their legs. It's 2AM and they remember that a friend of theirs had told them that the pills that they'd been prescribed made them nauseous and that they hadn't taken them. Is it too late to call now? No, they think, it's okay, they'll understand. You call. You embarrass yourself. You can't sleep and the thought of going out to the city to buy illegal drugs crosses your mind. It's only a passing thought but it lingers there as you sweat through the night. 

This seems like a good a spot as any to stop. Were you uncomfortable as you read that? Could you relate at all? Regardless of your answer, addiction is not a choice. After a drug is introduced into your system, you can't control how your brain will interpret it. You can't control what your brain will trick you into thinking. It's not a choice. It can happen to anyone.