The Devastation of American Drug Addiction

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Abstract

The drug and opioid epidemic is one of our country’s most burdensome challenges being faced in the present. It is something that the United States is struggling to resolve efficiently. In 2016, 42,000 Americans died from abuse of opioids, such as fentanyl, heroin, and prescription drugs (Ingraham).

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Each of these individuals were a mother or father, a son or daughter, or a friend (Pathos). Yet, even as the primary killer of people under the age of 50, drug addiction is still considered a “taboo” topic. The truth is, addiction affects every aspect of the drug-user’s life: their brain functions, their relationships, their personality (Pattern 3). Addiction in America compromises the well-being of the individual, relationship dynamics, and society, and does not have a clear solution.

Those who have not experienced addiction could not possibly understand the frustration, heartache, and worry that comes to everyone involved. There are certain criteria someone must meet in order to be clinically diagnosed as an addict, not just a drug user. One definition characterizes addiction as “…a disease that affects a person’s brain and behavior and leads to an inability to control the use of a…drug ” (Mayo Clinic). Statistically, every American will encounter a person with a drug addiction at some point, and with addiction becoming more prevalent, society should obtain a basic understanding of how addiction affects a drug-user.

To understand addiction, one must consider the changes the brain goes through as a result of drug use. The sought-after “high”, a sensation achieved through drug consumption, is caused by the brain’s generation of large amounts of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that causes us to feel happiness. Heroin, for example, has the ability to trick the brain into using the compound as a neurotransmitter. Cocaine, on the other hand, forces the brain to stop recycling dopamine after its release, therefore producing the high while also enforcing the repetition of the drug use (Addiction Education Society).

The release of the dopamine allows the “reward effect” to occur in the cerebral cortex, the emotion center of the brain — the same feeling as “a monetary reward…or a satisfying meal”, but on a larger scale (Harvard Health Publishing). The speed of the dopamine release correlates to how quickly one develops the addiction (Harvard Health Publishing). At a certain stage in the addiction, the drugs start to feel less euphoric, as the brain begins to produce less dopamine. Drugs chemically alter the brain from the first use, and the first high is almost always considered to be the best.

Therefore, the brain continues to chase the feeling of those first few highs, causing the person to continually feed the addiction as his or her tolerance builds, taking increasing amounts of the drug each time.

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