Dear Barb—The Growth of the Addict

Dear Barb:

Hi, I am wondering what is going on with all these young people dying of drug overdoses.  It used to be just the rock stars, you know, like Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Elvis Presley, Prince, and them.  But recently I have heard of so many deaths, even some relatives, who are in their twenties and thirties passing away from drug overdoses.  It is heartbreaking for everyone to watch these young people wasting their lives.  I wonder if doctors are over prescribing these medications, or if addicts are getting them illegally. 

When my doctor prescribes medication, I look it up to make sure it’s not addicting and as a result I have chosen not to take some medications because of the warnings I’ve read.  There has got to be a better way to treat pain than with these terribly addicting substances.  This definitely appears to be a societal problem.  Maybe it’s just particular people who are prone to addiction and I am overreacting.  What do you think?  Thanks, Justine.

Hi Justine,

I agree with you, this is a sad situation for society.  I read some interesting information on a site called Medical Xpress.  Research has confirmed that certain individuals are more susceptible to addiction and therefore we need to be more understanding of the addict.  Simply stated, their craving is stronger than the pain they are causing those around them.  The addict needs support and compassion rather that judgement and alienation.

Drug use physically changes the frontal cortex, which is the decision-making part of the brain and these changes be seen on imaging scans.  Following is a quote by Dr.  Nora Volkow, director of NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“When the frontal cortex isn’t working properly, people can’t make the decision to stop taking the drug—even if they realize the price of taking that drug may be extremely high and they might lose custody of their children or end up in jail.  Nonetheless, they take it.”

Unfortunately, addiction does run in families, as does heart disease, but not everyone in a family will become addicts or develop heart disease.  Addiction is not a black and white issue.  Surveys from the 1970’s to the present have indicated that society, as a whole, has become less happy, which may be contributing to the widespread addiction problem.  Worse, there doesn’t seem to be an easy fix, however studies are ongoing, and it does appear that this problem has to be prevented early in life, possibly during the teenage years.  Recently the medical community has changed their criteria and are reluctant to give opioids to teens following medical procedures.  Most are given Tylenol or other pain relievers instead, which seem to be successful.  I don’t believe you are overreacting as this a very real problem.