Addiction is so complex, and opioid addiction, especially, is really hard to get rid of for good. Many people describe addicts as “once and addict, always an addict.” The initial use of opioids causes a rush, a euphoria, and feeling of wellbeing that is very stimulating the the reward and pleasure center in the brain, causing a physiological addiction. It is very powerful, and begins to change the brain’s neurochemistry from the first use. Over time, that rush and euphoria starts to fade. Users are always trying to recapture their first high, which is why they are constantly increasing their dosage (American Addiction Centers, 2018).
The danger comes when the brain realizes that its normal function is being blunted by the drug, because it increases a number of receptors to include those that sense pain and those that give you energy and motivation. The longer the drug is used, the more these receptors are increased. At this point, the addict is in a situation where they depend on the drug to feel healthy. When they don’t use opioids, those increased receptors are still active; the increased pain receptors make the addict feel pain; the increased energy and motivation receptors make the addict feel agitated, antsy, and shaky. Those biochemical changes take a long time to fully recover, if ever (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2015).
There is also a psychological component, which can be just as harmful for some addicts. The things that led them to use opioids in the first place can be remain such strong triggers for relapse, such as friends, locations, romantic partners, other psychological diseases or disorders, past trauma, stress, homelessness, joblessness; the list goes on. These can be reminders of why they started in the first place, and make the addict feel the need to go back to the perceived safety or comfort that the drug provided them (Psychology Today, n.d.).
The United States needs to break the stigma that surrounds addiction, particularly opioid addiction. It affects all walks of life, no matter what race, religion, color, creed, sexual orientation, or age. Some start use on the street, but the majority start using from legitimate prescriptions, out of curiosity, or a desire to party. Suddenly, they are hooked and can’t stop. Nobody starts with the desire to completely destroy their lives. These people have a disease, and society needs to treat them the way society would treat somebody with cancer; people need to treat them with support and focused care.
As a country, the United States needs to try to eliminate the illicit drugs from entering the market. Similarly, hospitals and doctors need to be smarter and safer in their prescribing of these drugs. Small amounts of the least potent opioid should be used for the shortest time possible and only when absolutely needed. The United States needs to work on developing better pain medications that are not opioids and that have little to no risk of dependence.
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