I have something called an “addictive personality.” This never felt like news to me. My parents shared this knowledge with us kids repeatedly and casually. “You’re equal parts Irish and German, we hope you one day attend college and you have an addictive personality.” I understand my parents’ decision to equip me with this knowledge, and so far I have applied it in a precautionary way. However, it isn’t difficult to imagine how it can backfire. What starts as precaution can easily evolve into a crutch, a reason to acquiesce to addiction.
Rumor has it, addiction sneaks up on you. Drug experimentation begins with the assumption that you won’t be the one who becomes addicted. Whether or not you have a genetic propensity feels irrelevant. However, addiction removes the ability to maintain control. Addiction affects a specific part of your brain — the prefrontal cortex. Rational thought belongs to the prefrontal cortex. As addiction sets in, impulsive behavior goes unchecked, steadily chipping away at rational thought. Life becomes a cyclic, means-to-an-end battle. Feeding the addiction becomes the primary focus, and organizing your life becomes almost impossible.
The concept and acknowledgment of addiction is nothing new. We all remember the public service announcements on TV as kids: the “this is your brain on drugs” and anti-drug campaigns. What these campaigns failed to convey is the vast array of possible addictions. To most people, the idea of an addict conjures images of heroin and methamphetamine users. While these drugs are proven to be highly addictive and have earned their right as the poster children of addiction, they marginalize the growing issues surrounding less stigmatized drugs, like prescription drugs and home remedies.
Many addictions begin with self-medication. My cousin struggled with what was diagnosed as depression and anxiety as a teenager. He experimented with a range of different substances and eventually also discovered poppy seed tea — a home-brewed concoction that contains a number of opiates in various concentrations, including morphine and codeine. At some point, he realized the stronghold that addiction had on him. He sought help. He turned to a psychiatrist and confided that he was caught in the throes of addiction. Throughout the course of the next year, the psychiatrist prescribed him nine different highly addictive prescription drugs. In effect, he traded one addiction for another. His personality changed, along with his priorities. Every relationship he had suffered, and many disappeared altogether.
I have been periodically haunted by a moment my cousin and I shared four years ago. We were driving together in a car, and he was explaining his bleak outlook on life to me. Conversations of this nature were nothing unusual for us. We complement each other in the most frustrating of ways; I’m optimistic to a fault and his pessimism is overwhelming. We find middle ground in our questionable senses of humors. He was telling me he was trying to stop smoking weed for a while, but consequently was smoking more than a pack of cigarettes a day. He looked at me and said, “I don’t know if you know this about me, but I have what’s called ‘an addictive personality.’” It was a joke, and I laughed. Two years later he would find himself completely reliant on prescription drugs, taking over four times the recommended dosage of some of the medication every day. I’ve wondered if I had been able to peer into his future if I’d have been able to feign amusement. He checked into a holistic rehabilitation program after a full-blown intervention. He now acknowledges he found himself in a position he couldn’t overcome without help, but resisting relapse will be his life-long challenge.
Drug availability and culture is dynamic. It’s a slippery slope when parents and esteemed medical doctors can become suppliers and enablers. It’s equally startling to realize how many times I have acted as an enabler. I have little faith in corporate integrity and find the motives and organization of the pharmaceutical industry troubling. However, I do believe in my own ability to call shenanigans. It’s easy to minimize substance abuse issues in a university setting, but that doesn’t mean it’s wise. Stop every now and again to assess your priorities. Help your friends do the same. Realize when experimentation has begun to exceed innocent indulgence. Addiction can be isolating. Spend time reaching out to friends and family, and risk overreacting.
Jenna Ryan is the Opinion Editor at the Daily Nexus.